Officials with the Colorado Department of Health & Environment (CDHE) have reported a significant rise in hepatitis A cases statewide in 2017, particularly in men who have sex with men (MSM).

Colorado counties map/David Benbennick
Colorado counties map/David Benbennick

Through July 21, officials report 49 cases year-to-date, more than the total from all of 2015 (24) and 2016 (23).

The breakdown by county is as follows: Adams (9), Arapahoe (3), Boulder (2), Denver (6), Douglas (2), Eagle (1), El Paso (10), Garfield (1), Jefferson (2), Larimer (3), Pueblo (7), Summit (1), Teller (1) and Weld (1).

LISTEN: Talking Hepatitis A with Dr Amesh Adalja

About three-quarters of the cases are among men and more than 50 percent of the men had sexual contact with other men. About half the people who got sick were hospitalized and one death has been reported.

“We’re working closely with local public health agencies and community partners to reach people who need a hepatitis A vaccination,” said State Epidemiologist Dr. Rachel Herlihy. “People at higher risk should get the hepatitis A vaccine, which is extremely safe and highly effective.”

Hepatitis A is a liver infection. Typically, a person gets the virus by ingesting food or drinks contaminated with stool from an infected person. Hepatitis A also can spread through sexual contact with an infected person, including oral-anal contact and when fingers or objects that have been in or near the anus of an infected person are placed in someone else’s mouth.
People at higher risk for hepatitis A include men who have sexual contact with men, people who live with or have sex with someone who has hepatitis A, people who inject drugs and people with chronic liver disease.

Hepatitis A vaccine is routinely recommended for children, but most adults have not been vaccinated. Two doses of the vaccine, given six months apart, are recommended for:

  • All children at age 1.
  • Men who have sexual contact with men.
  • People who live with or have sex with someone who has hepatitis A.
  • People who use injection and non-injection illegal drugs.
  • People with chronic (lifelong) liver diseases, such as cirrhosis, hepatitis B or hepatitis C.
  • People who are homeless.
  • People who are traveling to countries that have higher rates of hepatitis A.
  • Family members or caregivers of a recent adoptee from countries where hepatitis A is common.
  • People who are treated with blood clotting-factor concentrates.

Symptoms of hepatitis A include yellow skin and eyes, fever, fatigue, loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, dark urine and light-colored stools. Symptoms develop between two weeks and six weeks after an exposure. The illness can be severe and last several weeks or months. Rarely, hepatitis A causes liver failure and death.

“People with hepatitis A can be contagious for two weeks before they have symptoms. They can spread the virus without knowing it,” Herlihy said. “It’s easy to protect yourself and others by getting vaccinated.”