Hepatitis A

SPOKANE, Wash. - The Spokane Regional Health District says there are now 47 cases of Hepatitis A in Spokane County, a substantial increase from the three reported in June.

The SRHD says most cases are occurring in people living homeless and/or who use drugs and 72 percent of the cases have been hospitalized. The risk to the general population of acquiring Hepatitis A is low.

SRHD's disease prevention and response team has coordinated multiple vaccination clinics since the outbreak began in June, administering over 1,300 vaccines within the homeless and incarcerated populations throughout the county. Efforts have also been made to educate vulnerable populations on the risks of contracting Hep A, ways to prevent exposure and symptoms to look out for.

“The collaboration with our community partners such as the House of Charity, Rite Aid, Salvation Army, UGM, and area correctional facilities has been phenomenal,” said SRHD health officer Dr. Bob Lutz. “Our community organizations that serve these vulnerable populations have been more than willing to open their doors and lend a hand.”

SRHD continues to work with homeless service providers to make the vaccine available. It can also be obtained from healthcare and pharmacies.

“The increase in cases is not unexpected,” explained Dr. Lutz. “Once contracted, the hepatitis A virus has an incubation period that could have begun before a vaccine was administered. As we work diligently to ensure those at risk receive the vaccine, the number of cases will decrease; our prompt attention has kept the virus from spreading even further.”

A statewide outbreak was declared by the Washington State Department of Health back in July.

Hepatitis A virus infects the liver and can cause illness ranging from a mild infection with no symptoms to a more severe illness that can last for months. Hepatitis A virus usually spreads when a person unknowingly ingests the virus after touching an object, food, or drink contaminated with the virus. Unsanitary conditions that result from homelessness, such as a lack of hand-washing facilities and bathrooms, as well as drug use, provide the environment for hepatitis A outbreaks to occur.

“If an infected person doesn’t wash their hands well, especially after toileting, undetectable amounts of the virus can spread from the hands of that person to other objects, surfaces, and foods,” said Dr. Lutz. “Fortunately, it is a vaccine-preventable disease, so it is important that you get vaccinated if you haven’t already.”

The SRHD stresses that the vaccine is an important measure of preventing Hepatitis A, saying it is safe and nearly 100 percent effective within two doses. The vaccine usually consists of two shots given six months apart.

More info from SRHD:

Hepatitis A vaccination is recommended for all children at age one year, travelers to countries where hepatitis A is common, people experiencing homelessness, men who have sex with men, people who use or inject drugs, people with chronic or long-term liver disease, people with clotting factor disorders, people with direct contact with others who have hepatitis A, family and caregivers of adoptees from countries where hepatitis A is common, and anyone wishing to obtain immunity. 

Adults are more likely to have symptoms than children. If symptoms develop, they usually appear two to seven weeks after infection and can include yellow skin or eyes (jaundice), dark urine and/or pale stools, loss of appetite, fever, diarrhea, fatigue, vomiting, joint pain, and abdominal pain. Anyone with symptoms consistent with hepatitis A should seek medical attention.

More information and resources on hepatitis A can be found at www.srhd.org/hepatitis-a.