The outbreak of hepatitis A in Utah – one of three outbreaks across the country – is not slowing.
The Utah Department of Health released new numbers on Monday showing 87 cases of outbreak-related virus since the first case discovered in May. A total of 95 cases of hepatitis A have been reported in Utah since the beginning of the year, but the additional cases do not involve the strain behind infections in California or Michigan, where the other two outbreaks began last year.
In the last two weeks, the Department of Health has added 12 new cases to its count. Generally, Utah sees only three or four cases of hepatitis A annually. All have focused on the homeless population of the state.
"The key to preventing this outbreak from spreading to the general public is making sure everyone practices proper hygiene and hand washing," said Gary Edwards, executive director of the Salt Lake County Health Department.
The state and county departments announced a campaign on Tuesday to educate the public about the outbreak. Includes a website, health.utah.gov/hepatitisa, with basic information about the virus and instructions for washing hands. He also has advice for food workers and restaurant owners; Some of Utah's worst previous hepatitis outbreaks were attributed to contaminated restaurants.
Viral disease, which in rare cases can be fatal, usually spreads when the traces of infected stool reach the mouth through contaminated food, water or dirty hands. Symptoms may include fever, diarrhea, vomiting and jaundice, or yellowing of the skin.
Although most healthy people recover in a matter of weeks, the homeless are especially vulnerable because they often suffer from underlying diseases or drug addictions that can aggravate their symptoms. terrible. Jeff Eason, an epidemiologist with the Utah Department of Health, said the underlying disease is likely to explain why this outbreak shows hospitalization rates of around 60 percent, compared to previous outbreaks, which were less than 40 percent. .
In addition to educating the public, health officials have offered daily vaccinations in which homeless people gather.
So far, 66 cases have been reported in Salt Lake County, with another 14 in Utah County. Some 46 people were coinfected with hepatitis B, hepatitis C or both, according to data from the health department. Most of the patients have been men. None has died.
That's a key difference between Utah and Michigan and Southern California, which have reported a combined total of 41 deaths and more than 800 hospitalizations, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.