Nearly three dozen Pima County residents have reportedly contracted hepatitis in Pima County in the last three months, according to the county health department. Twenty cases have already been reported in 2019.
People experiencing homelessness and those who are using or trying to quit using illicit drugs are particularly at risk, and the county has urged they receive the hepatitis A vaccine. Of the 34 cases linked to the outbreak since Nov. 1, 27 have resulted in a hospitalization
“As we continue to see cases, we are diligently working to protect the people most vulnerable from becoming infected,” said Deputy County Health Director Paula Mandel, in a release. “We are seeing this outbreak hit users of illicit drugs, those trying to quit illicit drugs, and people experiencing homelessness. We want to get the word out that the safe and effective vaccine and good hand hygiene can help protect you.”
Pima County is already working with area service providers, community health clinics, substance treatment facilities and other similar institutions to establish vaccination clinics.
“We are taking action to get ahead of this; to stop this infectious disease from continuing to spread,” said Dr. Carlos Perez-Velez, Health Department Deputy Chief Medical Officer, in a release. “With the continued support and cooperation of partners throughout the community, we have been able to provide more and more hepatitis A virus vaccinations to the vulnerable residents at high risk.”
Hepatitis A is a vaccine-preventable infectious disease that can damage the liver. Infected people shed the virus in their stool in high concentrations from two to three weeks before to one week after onset of clinical illness, and thereby spread the virus during this time. They often carry it on poorly washed hands. It spreads to others when they swallow invisible amounts of the virus through food, drink, sexual activity or after touching contaminated objects. While proper hand washing can prevent the spread of infection, vaccination provides long-term protection against the virus.
Symptoms include jaundice, fatigue, stomach pain, nausea and diarrhea. People can be contagious for two weeks before, and one week after, symptoms appear, and unknowingly spread the virus. Rarely, the virus can cause liver failure and death – especially in persons with impaired immune systems or chronic liver disease.
HAV vaccine is readily available at doctor’s offices, health clinics, and pharmacies. People who cannot pay for vaccinations or who do not have health insurance should contact the Health Department or a community health clinic near them. Places to get vaccinated can be found at pima.gov/hep-a.
The county has provided more information about hepatitis A infection and where to get the HAV vaccine, at pima.gov/hep-a or over the phone at (520) 724-7797.