Pima County Health Department sees spike in Hepatitis A cases

Hep A outbreak

TUCSON, AZ (KOLD News 13) - Pima County is dealing with an ongoing outbreak of Hepatitis A, surpassing annual totals for four of the last five years.

Within the first six weeks of 2019, Pima County has had 42 cases reported, 30 of those leading to hospitalizations.

“As we continue to see cases, we are diligently working to protect the people most vulnerable from becoming infected,” said Deputy County Health Director Paula Mandel.

The Health Department first became aware of the outbreak in November 2018 and has since been working to help stop the spread. Vaccination clinics have been opened for those most at risk for a hepatitis A infection, via a partnership with the County and various organizations including homeless services providers, community health clinics, substance use treatment providers, hospital emergency departments, jails, and probation facilities. Over the course of this outbreak, vaccination teams have been going into facilities to vaccinate as many people in the high-risk groups as possible.

Mandel said they cannot pinpoint an exact reason for the spike, but she believes it can be due to the weather this time of year.

“The homeless population is coming from other parts of the country. So maybe why we’re seeing our increase is because we’ve seen an increase in that population that is at risk."

However a person does not have to come into contact with the homeless population to contract Hepatitis A. It can be as simple as using a public restroom and a person not washing their hands after.

But while bathrooms can be a breeding ground for germs, it can also act as one of the best defenses.

"We don’t want people to be fearful of going into public restrooms. We just want to make sure they’re doing really good hand washing whether that’s at home or in public,” said Mandel.

It’s something Myles Traphagen has instilled in his son who is about to turn six years old. "There’s times where I’m just grabbing him saying ‘c’mon, lets go’ and he’ll say ‘no daddy, I have to wash my hands.’ So I’m glad that repetitive nagging has sort of payed off.”

In addition to getting vaccinated, people should:

  • Wash their hands with soap and water after going to the bathroom and before eating or making food
  • Avoid having sex with anyone who has Hepatitis A
  • Not share towels, toothbrushes, eating utensils, food, drinks, smokes or drug “works” with others

Hepatitis A is a vaccine-preventable infectious disease that can damage the liver. Infected people shed the virus in their stool in high concentrations from two to three weeks before to one week after onset of clinical illness, and thereby spread the virus during this time. They often carry it on poorly washed hands. It spreads to others when they swallow invisible amounts of the virus through food, drink, sexual activity or after touching contaminated objects. While proper hand washing can prevent spread of infection, vaccination provides long-term protection against the virus.

For more information about hepatitis A infection and where to get the HAV vaccine, visit www.pima.gov/hep-a or call (520) 724-7797.

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