SALT LAKE COUNTY, Utah, April 3, 2018 (Gephardt Daily) — The Salt Lake County Health Department has reported the county’s first two deaths due to the hepatitis A outbreak.
The county residents died in January and late March. The cause of death in the first case was recently confirmed by tests.
Both victims were adults who belonged to one or more population groups previously identified by health officials as high-risk for contracting hepatitis A. The high-risk groups included people experiencing homelessness, people who use illicit drugs, or people who are or have recently been incarcerated.
Due to medical privacy laws, public health officials are unable to share additional specifics about the victims.
“These deaths are a tragic reminder that hepatitis A is a serious disease — but one that is preventable,” said Dr. Dagmar Vitek, medical director for SLCoHD.
“Vaccination is the best way to prevent infection, and the vaccine is widely available from health care providers, pharmacies, and Salt Lake County immunization clinics.”
Hepatitis A vaccine is given via two shots at least six months apart. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that the first dose provides 94 percent protection against hepatitis A for two to five years. The second dose provides 99 percent protection for 20–25 years.
Vaccine appointments are available at Salt Lake County immunization clinics by calling 385-468-SHOT.
People can also dramatically reduce their risk of contracting hepatitis A by washing their hands frequently and thoroughly, especially after using the restroom, changing diapers, and eating, serving or preparing food.
“Food handlers must be especially vigilant about hand washing, and we encourage restaurant workers to consider receiving the vaccine to protect both themselves and their customers,” Vitek said.
Through April 2, Salt Lake County has identified 148 cases of hepatitis A related to this outbreak (Utah has seen 212 cases to date).
Epidemiologists have linked the Utah outbreak, which began in the summer of 2017, to a national outbreak first reported in San Diego.
Since August 2017, SLCoHD has conducted targeted vaccination and awareness campaigns to try to control the outbreak, including holding on-site vaccination clinics at community locations where individuals thought to be at high risk congregate.
The department has also distributed thousands of hygiene kits to people in need. Kits contain soap, disinfectant wipes, and other products encouraging hand washing and good hygiene.
Hepatitis A is a contagious liver disease that (unlike other forms of hepatitis) does not usually result in chronic infection. It is caused by a virus and can range in severity from a mild illness lasting a few weeks to a severe illness lasting several months. Hepatitis A is usually spread when a person ingests the virus from contact with objects, food, or drinks contaminated by feces from an infected person.
Symptoms of infection include fatigue, nausea, abdominal pain, diarrhea, and jaundice (yellowing of the skin and eyes).