You can get a vaccination to prevent hepatitis A. Proper handwashing can also protect you from the virus. Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department is working with healthcare providers, shelters to investigate
Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department has received notification of an adult who was diagnosed with hepatitis A on Dec. 17. The case meets the statewide outbreak definition including risk factors of homelessness and drug use. Washington State Department of Health declared an outbreak of hepatitis A on July 30, 2019.
People who were exposed to this person could expect to see symptoms of fatigue, fever, nausea, stomach pain, vomiting, no appetite, dark urine, pale feces, diarrhea and jaundice (yellow skin and eyes).
People living homeless or using drugs or alcohol may have pre-existing liver disease. This puts them at increased risk for severe illness and death from hepatitis A. As of Jan. 3, the state has received reports of 154 cases, resulting in 86 hospitalizations and three deaths.
Large hepatitis A outbreaks have occurred across the United States since 2016. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, from 2016 and December 2019 more than 29,330 people became sick; 17,801 needed hospital care and 298 people died.
You can easily get a hepatitis A vaccination to prevent the disease.
How does hepatitis A spread?
Hepatitis A usually spreads through an infected person’s feces. When people don’t wash their hands well after using the bathroom, they can spread it to others. The virus also spreads through shared food, contaminated objects, sex with someone who has hepatitis A and shared drug items.
Even a very small amount of virus particles can make a person sick. Proper handwashing can keep hepatitis A from spreading.
Am I at risk of getting hepatitis A?
If you don’t have a hepatitis A vaccination, you can get the disease. People living homeless are more at risk because they might live in crowded conditions or lack running water to keep their hands clean. Other vulnerable people include recreational injection or non-injection drug users, people with certain medical conditions like chronic liver disease and men who have sex with men.
Follow these four steps to protect against the virus:
- Wash your hands after using the bathroom and before handling food.
- Talk to your healthcare provider to get vaccinated.
- If you are a new parent, make sure your infant gets a vaccination. If you adopt a child from another country, it’s especially important to make sure you and your family have vaccinations. Most children with hepatitis A won’t look or act sick.
- Before you travel to another country, find out what vaccines you need.
Food safety is a critical step to prevent the spread of diseases like hepatitis A. We inspect food establishments to make sure food workers wash their hands, use utensils or gloves to avoid touching ready-to-eat food and stay home from work if they’re sick.
Learn more about hepatitis A and other types of hepatitis virus at www.tpchd.org/hepatitis.