Victorian men who have sex with men (MSM) and people who inject drugs are being urged to get a free hepatitis A vaccination following a death in Victoria.

Victoria’s Deputy Chief Health Officer Dr Brett Sutton on Friday said the death was associated with an outbreak of hepatitis A where more people have become infected over the last two months.

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

There have been 42 confirmed cases of hepatitis A linked to this outbreak. There is one further probable case and an additional 22 under early investigation.

All cases are male, with many MSM who have not travelled overseas. An increasing number are in people who inject drugs.

“Immunisation is safe, effective and saves lives. It provides the best protection against serious diseases such as hepatitis A. It also means the wider community is better protected,” Dr Sutton said.

“To help stop the spread of this serious disease, a free, two-dose course of hepatitis A vaccine is now available to all MSM in Victoria and all people who have injected drugs in the past 12 months.

“This death highlights just how important it is for all eligible people to get the free hepatitis A vaccine.”

The free vaccination program will run until 31 December 2018.

Dr Sutton called on doctors to offer vaccinations to their patients in these particular risk groups.

“We’re beginning to see spread of the infection more widely” he said.

Adults who get hepatitis A usually develop symptoms which include fever, nausea, vomiting and abdominal pain, followed by dark urine and yellow skin/eyes (also known as jaundice).

It can take between 15 to 50 days to develop symptoms after contact with hepatitis A.

Although uncommon, hepatitis A can result in liver failure and death. The risk of death increases with age and can occur in up to two per cent of adults with acute hepatitis A.

Hepatitis A is spread through person-to-person transmission, including sexual activity, and is not limited to MSM. Transmission can also occur whilst sharing injecting equipment such as needles, and through the consumption of contaminated food and water.

“It’s important to wash your hands and your body after sex to help stop the spread of hepatitis A. Make sure you’re using condoms and changing condoms between any sexual activity,” Dr Sutton said.

“We also strongly advise any confirmed cases with hepatitis A against engaging in any sexual activity or food preparation that could increase the spread of the virus.”

The hepatitis A strains detected in this outbreak are similar to those circulating in Europe. Since 2016, hepatitis A outbreaks among MSM have been reported in 16 European countries and across the United States. A similar outbreak was reported in NSW in 2017, and people in other parts of Australia are also affected.

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