Santa Cruz County is experiencing an increase in new cases of Hepatitis A infection, according to county health officials.

Hepatitis A Vaccine Image/National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases
Hepatitis A Vaccine
Image/National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases

The County usually has 1-2 confirmed cased per year. In the last 7 weeks the county has received 9 confirmed cases. These newly identified cases share one or more of the following characteristics: illicit drug use (injection and non-injection), homelessness, and/or dense living conditions. Of concern is the fact that there have been recent, serious and widespread outbreaks of Hepatitis A in similar identified populations in other counties (eg San Diego County).

To address this concern the County has been conducting vaccination clinics in the community and working with partners in an effort to reach those most at risk.

“We are partnering with the community to ensure the people most at risk, particularly the homeless, have access to the hepatitis A vaccine,” said Arnold S. Leff, MD, County Public Health Officer. “We’ve increased our outreach to vulnerable populations and have worked to make information available. We are strongly encouraging people who are at risk to check with their health care providers and get vaccinated for hepatitis A.”

Hepatitis A can be spread through contaminated food or water. Hepatitis A can also be spread by having sexual contact or sharing drugs with someone who is infected. Those most at risk include: travelers to areas with high or intermediate rates of endemic Hepatitis A; men who have sex with men; users of injection and non-injection illegal drugs; persons with clotting factor disorders; and household members or caregivers of persons infected with Hepatitis A.

Symptoms of hepatitis A include jaundice (yellowing of the skin and eyes), fever, fatigue, loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, dark urine, and light-colored stools. Symptoms usually appear over a number of days and last less than two months. However, some people can be ill for as long as six months. Hepatitis A can sometimes cause liver failure and even death.

To prevent the spread of hepatitis A infection: get the hepatitis A vaccination; wash your hands frequently, especially after using the bathroom or changing diapers, and before handling food; do not have sex with someone who has a Hepatitis A infection; use your own towels, toothbrushes and eating utensils; and don’t share food, drinks or smokes with other people.