Since March 2018, the West Virginia Bureau for Public Health has reported an increase in the number of confirmed cases of acute hepatitis A virus. As of late last week, the total outbreak cases stand at 404.
Of this total, 280 required hospitalization and one person died.
This increase in cases has primarily been among injection and non-injection drug users, homeless or mobile individuals, and those who have been recently incarcerated. Viral sequencing has linked cases from Kentucky and California.
More than half the cases have been reported from Kanawha County (233), followed by Cabel County (73), Putnam County (54) and Wayne County with 13 cases.
Hepatitis A is a highly contagious liver infection caused by the hepatitis A virus. It can range from a mild illness lasting a few weeks to a severe illness lasting several months. Although rare, hepatitis A can cause death.
Hepatitis A usually spreads when a person unknowingly ingests the virus from objects, food, or drinks contaminated by small, undetected amounts of stool from an infected person. Hepatitis A can also spread from close personal contact with an infected person such as through sexual contact or caring for someone who is ill.
Although anyone can get hepatitis A, certain groups of people are at higher risk such as: • Persons who use injection and non-injection drug users • Homeless persons • Persons who had sexual contact with someone who has hepatitis A • Men who have sexual encounters with other men • People who have come into close person-to-person contact with an infected person • People with ongoing, close contact with people who are homeless or people who use injection and non-injection drugs.
The best way to prevent hepatitis A is with the hepatitis A vaccine. Practicing good hand hygiene – including thoroughly washing hands after using the bathroom, changing diapers, and before preparing or eating food – plays an important role in preventing the spread of hepatitis A.