The Louisiana Office of Public Health has declared an outbreak of hepatitis A across the state. So far there have been 25 known cases reported. While most of those cases are in Morehouse Parish, there have been others reported across the state including in St. Tammany and Orleans Parishes.
Declaring this an outbreak helps officials to coordinate community, state, and federal resources in treating and preventing the further spread of the disease through public awareness campaigns. They also hope to encourage those at risk to get vaccinated.
Outbreaks are occurring in other states as well, and appear to be affecting certain groups:
- The homeless
- Reported drug users, both injection and noninjection
- Incarcerated or recently incarcerated
- Men engaging in sex with men
- People who have had close contact with someone infected with hepatitis A.
Hepatitis A is an extremely contagious infection of the liver that is easily spread through close contact. It can be unknowingly spread through contaminated food or drinks. In addition, a person carrying hepatitis A can spread the virus to others up to two weeks before showing any symptoms themselves.
Symptoms of hepatitis A include loss of appetite, fever, nausea, vomiting, joint pain, jaundice, abdominal pain, clay-colored bowel movements, and dark urine. Unvaccinated children who are younger than six may not show any symptoms.
Hepatitis A can resolve on its own, lasting anywhere from two months to more than six months. However, it is important to seek treatment, as the disease can sometimes cause liver failure and death, especially in people over 50 and those who have other liver diseases.
The Louisiana health department recommends that anyone in the following groups receive routine hepatitis vaccinations:
- Children at age 1
- Anyone traveling to countries where hepatitis A is common
- Caregivers or family members of someone with hepatitis A.
- Men who have sex with other men
- Recreational drug users
- Anyone with chronic, long-term liver disease
- Anyone with a clotting factor disorder
- Anyone who wishes to be immune to hepatitis A.
While vaccination is the best method of prevention, it is also important to follow good handwashing procedures in order to prevent the spread of the disease.