The disturbing outbreaks of hepatitis A across the nation have sadly not abated this year. Arizona has experienced more than 250 cases this year. The Alabama Public Health Department confirmed close to 80 cases in that state earlier this month. The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment reports more than 50 cases in that state, most of them in a single county.
And that’s not the worst of it. Florida reports that it has more than 1,000 cases of the disease.
It’s a troubling but necessary time to observe Hepatitis Awareness Month this May, and Hepatitis Testing Day, which is today.
“Since the hepatitis A outbreaks were first identified in 2016, more than 15,000 cases, 8,500 (57%) hospitalizations, and 140 deaths as a result of hepatitis A virus (HAV) infection have been reported, as outlined in the March 2019 Health Alert Network (HAN) Advisory,” the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports.
The disease is particularly prevalent among the homeless and people who are drug users. Homeless people lack access to the kind of sanitation that would help keep the disease at bay. Soap and water is needed for personal hygiene; hand sanitizers don’t do the job. The virus can be spread through infected needles or other unsanitary drug paraphernalia. And people in these two populations often are distrustful of public health officials and lack access to prompt healthcare, allowing the disease to spread, according to an article in Clinical Psychiatry News.
Yet these are the people especially in need of vaccination, according to the CDC. In fact, the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, an expert panel of the CDC, recommends the vaccine for the following populations even in areas where there is no active outbreak:
- All children at age 1 year
- Travelers to countries where hepatitis A is common
- Family and caregivers of adoptees from countries where hepatitis A is common
- Men who have sexual encounters with other men
- People who use injection and non-injection drugs
- People with chronic liver disease
- People with clotting-factor disorders
- People experiencing homelessness
- People who work with HAV-infected primates or with HAV in a research laboratory setting
- People with direct contact with others who have hepatitis A
- Anyone wishing to obtain immunity (protection)
“Since the hepatitis A vaccine was first recommended in 1996, cases of hepatitis A in the United States have declined dramatically,” the CDC says on its website taking note of Hepatitis Awareness Month. “Unfortunately, in recent years the number of people infected has been increasing because there have been multiple outbreaks of hepatitis A in many jurisdictions across the United States.”
Vaccination of at-risk individuals could go a long way to reducing the spread of this disease. Do you know someone who fits the description of one of the groups above? This would be the perfect day to mention that they might want to check with their doctor about immunization.