Health officials in Vermont have declared what they’re calling an early-stage outbreak of hepatitis A.
The number of cases of hepatitis A have prompted officials to join 30 other states in making the declaration. The health department said that the best way to prevent hepatitis A infection is to get vaccinated.
“We’ve been anticipating an outbreak of hepatitis A cases here from monitoring how this has evolved in other states,” Health Commissioner Mark Levine, MD, said. “We are working closely with health care providers to ensure that Vermonters are vaccinated, and with our community partners to get the word out to people who are at high risk of infection, some of whom can be difficult to reach.”
The health department said that Vermont had 12 cases of acute hepatitis A virus (HAV) infection last year, compared with the previous five-year average of three cases per year. Of the 12 cases, 58 percent were hospitalized. Many Vermont counties have reported cases, with most in the southern part of the state.
Hepatitis A is a liver infection caused by the Hepatitis A virus. Symptoms can range from a mild infection to a more serious illness, including liver failure and death. The virus is generally spread by person-to-person contact, primarily through the fecal-oral route. Thorough handwashing and sanitary practices are important to help prevent it from spreading.
The majority of cases in Vermont and nationally are among people with these risk factors:
- people with a history of drug use
- people who are experiencing unstable housing or homelessness
- individuals who are currently or who were recently incarcerated
- people with chronic liver disease including cirrhosis, hepatitis B, or hepatitis C
- men who have sex with men
Levine said it’s very important that people who are at higher risk of infection get vaccinated to help prevent spread of the virus.
“Hepatitis A is a vaccine-preventable disease, and a single dose provides 95 percent protection,” he said. “The vaccine is safe and is now recommended during childhood.”
Case numbers are also up for Hepatitis B, the health department said, adding that the state is monitoring these cases as well.
Hepatitis B is spread by exposure to infected blood, such as from sharing needles, syringes or other drug preparation equipment, by contact with blood or skin wounds and sores of an infected person, and by having sex with a partner who engages in high-risk behaviors. Acute infection is a short-term illness that happens within the first six months after exposure to the virus. It can lead to chronic infection and can cause mild illness with few or no symptoms, or more serious conditions requiring hospitalization.
According to the health department, there have been none cases of acute hepatitis B virus (HBV) infection, compared with the previous five-year average of fewer than three cases per year.
The Health Department has been offering free hepatitis A vaccine clinics in places that serve high-risk individuals, such as shelters, syringe services programs, and meal sites. Clinics have also been held in all Vermont correctional facilities.
Vermonters without insurance can contact their local health office for information about free vaccine clinics (https://www.healthvermont.gov/local).
People are encouraged to contact their health care provider to receive the two or three dose Hepatitis B vaccine series. This vaccine is also available at Local Health Offices to anyone under the age of 65.