In March 2017, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) began investigating several hepatitis A cases in California among people experiencing homelessness or who use drugs. By September 2017, San Diego County had reported 481 cases — the most of any other jurisdiction. The San Diego County public health officer declared a local public health emergency due to the outbreak.
Washington County Public Health has been monitoring the California outbreak closely, along with other hepatitis A outbreaks in Utah and Michigan. We are working closely with the Oregon Health Authority and other counties, cities and service providers across the region to prepare for the possibility of an outbreak here.
What is hepatitis A (Hep A) and what are the symptoms?
Hepatitis A is a liver infection caused by a virus. It can cause liver disease that lasts a few weeks to a few months. Most people recover completely. Though it is rare, some people can become very ill and die. A person becomes infected when they swallow virus that is in the feces of someone who has hepatitis. There is no cure for hepatitis A.
Symptoms include fever, feeling very tired, nausea, loss of appetite, yellowing of the eyes and skin (jaundice), stomach pain, vomiting, dark urine, pale stools and diarrhea. It usually takes about a month after infection to notice symptoms, although it can be as short as two weeks and as long as seven weeks. Children tend to have few or only mild symptoms.
How is Hep A spread?
Hepatitis A virus spreads very easily. When someone is sick with hepatitis A, the virus is released in their feces. A person with the infection can spread the virus even before they start to feel sick. Sick people can spread Hep A to others for two weeks before they feel sick, and for about two weeks after their symptoms start.
Hepatitis A virus is usually spread by touching objects or eating food that someone with hepatitis A virus infection handled, or by having sex with someone who has Hep A.
Is there a Hep A vaccine?
Yes, and it is safe and effective. It has been required for children at public schools in Oregon since 1995, but many adults may not have been vaccinated against Hep A.
In general, the CDC recommends the hepatitis A vaccine for any adult who:
- Has had close contact with someone sick with hepatitis A.
- Has chronic liver disease.
- Uses drugs.
- Is a man who has sex with other men.
- Plans to travel to a country where hepatitis A is common.
- Wants to be protected.
In addition, anyone who is experiencing homelessness should consider getting vaccinated. Anyone who wants to be vaccinated can visit their primary care provider. You can also call the Washington County Health Care Resource Line at 503-846-8851 to find out where to get the vaccine.
What should I do if I think I have Hep A?
If you have symptoms of hepatitis A, contact your health care provider. If you have had close contact with someone who has hepatitis A and have not been vaccinated yet, please contact your health care provider. Hep A infection can be prevented if you get vaccine or immune globulin soon after being exposed.
How can I prevent getting Hep A?
- Wash your hands with soap and warm water, especially after using the bathroom or before eating/preparing food.
- Get two shots of the hepatitis A vaccine.
- Don’t have sex with someone who has Hep A.
- Use your own towels, toothbrushes and eating utensils.
- Don’t share food, drinks or smokes with other people.