The Wyoming Department of Health (WDH) and the Casper-Natrona County Health Department continue to investigate a growing Natrona County hepatitis A outbreak that began in October.
Since October, 14 cases have been confirmed among Natrona County residents, which is a significant increase over the usual total for Wyoming. Previously, the long-term average statewide was two cases annually with the last reported local Hepatitis A infection in 2012.
“While some of the Natrona County cases did not have a clear hepatitis A exposure risk, recent cases have been concentrated among current injection drug users,” said Clay Van Houten, Infectious Disease Epidemiology Program manager with WDH.
Infection with hepatitis A typically results in symptoms in older children and adults.
Symptoms usually occur abruptly and include fever, fatigue, loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, dark urine, clay-colored stools, joint pain and jaundice.
There can be a significant delay between when someone who is exposed to the virus and when they show symptoms.
“People recently exposed to hepatitis A who have not been vaccinated should receive a vaccine as soon as possible,” Van Houten said.
Specific risk factors for hepatitis A include:
- Persons with direct contact with a person who has hepatitis A
- Men who have sex with men
- Users of injection and non-injection drugs
- Travelers to countries with high rates of hepatitis A infectionHepatitis A can cause infection in the liver. The virus is primarily spread person-to-person through oral contact with contaminated items such as swallowing food or drink tainted with a tiny amount infected feces.
Van Houten said the best way to prevent hepatitis A is through vaccination.
Handwashing, especially after using the bathroom, changing diapers, and before preparing or eating food, plays an important role in preventing the spread of the virus.
Vaccination to prevent hepatitis A is routinely recommended.
Children aged at least 12 months and less than 24 months should receive two doses of the vaccine separated by at least 6 months and no less than 18 months.
The vaccine series is also recommended for people aged 2 years or older who have not already received it.
The Casper-Natrona County Health Department offers the hepatitis A series vaccine; some people may qualify for free or discounted vaccine.