TWIN FALLS — Public health officials are investigating an outbreak of Hepatitis A in southern Idaho, with three reported cases here in south-central Idaho’s eight counties.
In total, 12 people who have the infection have been reported to health officials since Jan. 1, Idaho Department of Health and Welfare said in a statement Monday. That compares with only eight people reported last year across the entire state.
Officials are working to determine possible links between the cases and encouraging high-risk populations to get the vaccine, according to the statement.
The vaccination is recommended for people who may be at an increased risk for the infection: men who have sex with men, people who use drugs (injection or non-injection, people experiencing unstable housing or homelessness, and people with chronic liver disease, including cirrhosis, hepatitis B or hepatitis C.
“We’re monitoring the situation closely,” epidemiologist Randi Pedersen said in a statement. “The best protection is to be vaccinated, but everyone can reduce their risk by practicing good hand hygiene. This means thoroughly washing your hands after using the bathroom, changing diapers, and before preparing or eating food.”
Hepatitis A is a virus that infects the liver and is easily spread by poor hand washing, close contact or sex with an infected person, eating or drinking contaminated food, and recreational drug use, according to IDHW.
“Most Idahoans reported with hepatitis A this year have been so severely ill, they were hospitalized,” Pedersen said.
“Hepatitis A can spread quickly, and we take all cases very seriously,” South Central Public Health District epidemiologist Tanis Maxwell said in a statement. “The cases in our region are limited to three individuals that SCPHD is monitoring closely. Despite thorough investigation, we haven’t found a common source and believe the cases in our district are unrelated.”
Symptoms start two to seven weeks after infection and can include yellowing of the skin and eyes (jaundice), fever, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, stomach pain, tiredness, lack of appetite, and dark urine or pale stool.
Hepatitis A vaccine has been routinely recommended for children since 1999. However, there are many Idahoans older than 30 who were not vaccinated as a child and are susceptible to hepatitis A.
Lack of immunity among Idahoans over the age of 30 may be playing a role in the current outbreak in Idaho, according to IDHW.
For more information about hepatitis A and getting vaccinated, talk to your healthcare provider or local public health district.