By NewsDesk  @infectiousdiseasenews

The Colorado Department of Health reported the first death linked to the Colorado hepatitis A outbreak that began nearly one year ago.

The patient, a Denver resident, had risk factors consistent with those experienced by others in this outbreak.

Since Oct. 2018, 163 cases of hepatitis A have been reported in Colorado. People affected by this outbreak may have less access to preventive health care, poorer nutrition, crowded living conditions, and greater health risks. That includes people experiencing homelessness, substance use issues, and incarceration, and contacts of people with those risk factors. The risks to other populations in this outbreak is low.

Deaths from hepatitis A are rare, but they can occur, especially when people who have other medical conditions get the disease,” said Dr. Rachel Herlihy, state communicable disease epidemiologist. “This unfortunate death reminds us that the critical work our local public health agencies have been doing to vaccinate at-risk populations must continue. This outbreak is not over.”

Public health has vaccinated more than 8,000 at-risk individuals in Colorado since the outbreak began in October 2018, in addition to educating people, partners, and providers about the illness and how to prevent it.

Hepatitis A is a highly contagious virus that infects the liver and can cause liver disease lasting a few weeks to a serious illness lasting months. Rarely, it can cause death. It is easily prevented with a safe, effective vaccine. Hepatitis A usually spreads when a person unknowingly ingests the virus from objects, food, or drinks that are contaminated by small, undetected amounts of stool from an infected person. It also can spread through close personal contact with an infected person such as through sex, caring for someone who is ill, or sharing drugs or drug equipment with someone who may be ill. 

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The majority of cases in this outbreak have occurred in El Paso County, but cases also have occurred in Arapahoe, Boulder, Denver, Douglas, Fremont, Jefferson and Pueblo counties. The number of cases in the Denver metro area has been increasing since July.

Nationally, since the outbreaks were first identified in 2016, 30 states have publicly reported 25,484 cases and 254 deaths.

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