The Wyoming Department of Health (WDH) and the Casper-Natrona County Health Department continue to investigate a growing Natrona County Hepatitis A outbreak that began in October 2017.
Since then, 14 cases have been confirmed among Natrona County residents, which is a significant increase over the usual total for the entire state of Wyoming. Before the outbreak began, the long-term average statewide was two cases annually with the most recent reported local Hepatitis A infection in 2012.
“While some of the Natrona County cases did not have a clear hepatitis A exposure risk, recent cases have been concentrated among current injection drug users,” said Clay Van Houten, Infectious Disease Epidemiology Program manager with WDH.
The Wyoming news comes among reports a Hepatitis A outbreak across several states including California, Indiana, Kentucky, Michigan, and Utah. At least 1,200 cases have been reported, and more than 40 people have died of the highly contagious liver virus.
Kim Deti, a spokeswoman for the health department, told the Casper Star-Tribune she couldn’t say whether the outbreak is related cases in Salt Lake City.
The 18 cases of Hepatitis A reported in Wyoming last year and those reported so far this year represent a significant increase.
Hepatitis A infection can be prevented by a vaccine.
The infection typically results in symptoms in older children and adults. Symptoms, including fever, fatigue, loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, dark urine, clay-colored stools, joint pain, and jaundice, usually occur abruptly.
There can be a 50-day delay between when someone who is exposed to the virus and when they show symptoms.
“People recently exposed to hepatitis A who have not been vaccinated should receive a vaccine as soon as possible,” Van Houten said.
Specific risk factors for Hepatitis A include these, according to the Health Department.
- Those who have direct contact with a person who has Hepatitis A
- Men who have sex with men
- Users of injection and non-injection drugs
- Travelers to countries with high rates of hepatitis A infection
Hepatitis A is primarily spread person-to-person through oral contact with contaminated items such as food or drink tainted with a microscopic amount of infected feces.
Van Houten said the best way to prevent Hepatitis A is through vaccination. Handwashing, especially after using the bathroom, changing diapers and before preparing or eating food, plays an important role in preventing the spread of the virus.
Children between 1 and 2 years old should receive two doses of the vaccine separated by at least 6 months and no more than 18 months. The vaccine series is also recommended for people 2 and older who have not already received it.
The Casper-Natrona County Health Department offers the Hepatitis A series vaccine; some people may qualify for free or discounted vaccine. For more information or to schedule a clinic appointment, please call 307-235-9340.
More information about Hepatitis A is available online from the Centers for Disease Control and Information at https://www.cdc.gov/hepatitis/hav/afaq.htm.
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