Baton Rouge, La. – The Louisiana Department of Health has declared an outbreak of hepatitis A in the state. Although most of the recent cases have been reported in Morehouse Parish, cases have been reported in other parts of the state.
By declaring the 24 known cases to be an outbreak, the health agency hopes to raise the public’s awareness about the disease, convince those who are at risk for hepatitis A to get vaccinated and to best coordinate federal, state and community resources.
Health officials have not identified a common pathway for the source of the virus such as foods, beverages or drugs. Instead, Dr. Frank Welch, immunization director for the Louisiana Department of Health, said transmission of the virus appears to be through direct person-to-person spread and illicit drug use.
Officials add that people with a history of injection and non-injection drug use, homelessness or transient housing and incarceration are most at-risk in this outbreak.
“To address the outbreak, the Department’s Office of Public Health has received one-time funding to purchase vaccine for the virus and is working with partner organizations to provide services to people experiencing homelessness or drug use – two of the most at-risk groups for hepatitis A,” said Welch.
Due to a national outbreak of the virus occurring since 2016 and increased state vigilance and coordination with federal and community entities, the state has purchased and distributed additional vaccines to reach high-risk areas in New Orleans and Baton Rouge, as well as in Morehouse Parish, where clusters have been identified.
Through federal and state funding, the Department is partnering with communities to respond quickly to new clusters and vaccinate high-risk individuals to prevent the spread of hepatitis A. So far, the state has purchased 3,000 doses of the vaccine and intends to purchase 1,600 more.
To view updated case counts and outbreak information, click here.
Hepatitis A Facts
Hepatitis A is a serious, highly contagious liver disease caused by the hepatitis A virus which is found in the feces of people with hepatitis A.
The illness is spread by eating contaminated food or drinking contaminated beverages, during sex or through close contact such as living with an infected person.
Illness can appear 15-50 days after exposure and people can be sick for several weeks. In some cases, people can die.
Although not all people infected with hepatitis A experience illness, symptoms can include:
- Nausea and vomiting
- Abdominal pain
- Feeling tired
- Loss of appetite
- Yellowing of the skin and eyes (jaundice)
- Dark urine
- Pale-colored feces
- Joint pain
Adults are more likely to display symptoms than children. Symptoms generally last less than two months, though some people may be ill for as long as six months.
Diagnosis is obtained through a blood sample. Treatment usually includes rest, adequate nutrition, fluids and medical monitoring.
Preventing the Spread
The two most important methods of preventing the spread of HAV are hand washing and vaccination. Because the most common spread of HAV is through the fecal-oral route, people should thoroughly wash their hands with soap and warm water after using the bathroom or changing a diaper.
Vaccination is safe and effective, consisting of either two or three shots given one and six months apart. It is recommended for:
- All children at 1 year of age
- Travelers to countries where HAV is common
- Family and caregivers of adoptees from countries where HAV is common
- Men who have sex with other men
- Users of illegal drugs
- People with chronic or long-term liver disease, including Hepatitis B or Hepatitis C
- People with clotting-factor disorders
- People who have experienced homelessness or in transient living during the past year
- People recently in jail or prison
- Any person wishing to obtain immunity (protection)
To receive the HAV vaccine, people should contact their primary care provider or parish health unit. To find a parish health unit, visit http://www.ldh.la.gov/index.cfm/page/394.
Visit http://ldh.la.gov/index.cfm/page/1009 for more information and resources.