Hepatitis A cases continue to rise in Colorado, climbing to 54 so far in 2017, which is more than double the number of cases typically seen in an entire year. One Coloradan has died from the illness. The state health department urges all people at risk, especially men who have sexual contact with men, to get vaccinated to prevent hepatitis A.

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

“Colorado’s hepatitis A outbreak mirrors similar outbreaks across the country,” said State Epidemiologist Dr. Rachel Herlihy. “We’re seeing more cases among gay, bisexual and other men who have sex with unvaccinated men. We want to get the word out: A safe and effective vaccine will protect you.”

LISTEN: Talking Hepatitis A with Dr Amesh Adalja

Hepatitis A is a vaccine-preventable disease that can damage the liver. Infected people have the virus in their stool and 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 handwashing can prevent spread of infection, vaccination provides long-term protection against the virus.

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Hepatitis A vaccine is readily available at doctor’s offices and many retail outlets. People who need help paying for vaccinations should contact their local public health department.

The hepatitis A vaccine routinely is recommended for children, but most adults have not been vaccinated. Any person wishing to obtain immunity can get vaccinated. Two doses of the vaccine, given six months apart are recommended for:
  • All children at age 1, as a routine childhood immunization.
  • Previously unvaccinated children and adolescents ages 2-18, as a catch-up vaccine.
  • Men who have sexual contact with men.
  • People who use injection and noninjection street drugs.
  • People with chronic liver disease, such as cirrhosis, alcoholic liver disease, hepatitis B or hepatitis C.
  • People who are homeless.
  • People who are traveling to countries where hepatitis A is common.
  • Family members or caregivers of a recent adoptee from countries where hepatitis A is common.
  • People who are treated with blood-clotting factor concentrates.
Hepatitis A symptoms include jaundice, fatigue, severe stomach pain, nausea and diarrhea. People can be contagious for two weeks before symptoms appear, and unknowingly spread the virus. Rarely, the virus can cause liver failure and death. A blood test is the only way to confirm hepatitis A, so people who think they may have the virus should consult a health care provider.

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