From September 15, 2017, to August 20, 2019, there have been 414 hepatitis A outbreak-associated cases in 35 Missouri counties. Of the cases reported, there have been 233 hepatitis A outbreak-associated hospitalizations and 2 hepatitis A outbreak-associated deaths. The disease appears to be spreading through direct person-to-person contact, mostly among people who use illicit injection or non-injection drugs and their close contacts.
Local public health agencies across Missouri are working to vaccinate at-risk populations to help stop the outbreak. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, these populations include people who:
- Use recreational drugs;
- Are experiencing homelessness;
- Are men who have sex with men;
- Are in treatment or counseling for substance abuse;
- Are receiving drug substitution treatment and/or participate in drug court;
- Work or have been detained in a jail or a detention center; or
- Have close contact with the above group(s) or a confirmed hepatitis A case
Members of at least one of these at-risk groups who have not been vaccinated against hepatitis A, can contact the local public health agency in their area with questions or to request the vaccine.
“Recently, I was able to accompany members of our Section for Disease Prevention to the National Viral Hepatitis Planning Meeting in Atlanta to glean information from other states’ communicable disease programs,” said Dr. Randall Williams, director of the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services. “One notable state we heard from was Tennessee—a state comparable in size to Missouri—which is experiencing an even more severe outbreak. We are grateful to have their insight and perspective on this issue. Their experience has allowed us to be more prepared for this potential situation and work to prevent this type of contagious outbreak to spread further.”
Hepatitis A is a viral infection of the liver that can cause loss of appetite, nausea, tiredness, fever, stomach pain, brown-colored urine, and light-colored stools. Yellowing of the skin or eyes might also occur. People can become ill up to 7 weeks after being exposed to the virus. If you think you have symptoms of hepatitis A, you should contact your healthcare provider.
Hepatitis A usually spreads when a person unknowingly ingests the virus from objects, food, or drinks contaminated by small, undetected amounts of stool (poop) from an infected person. In addition to vaccination, careful handwashing with soap and water, including under the fingernails, after using the bathroom or changing diapers and before preparing or eating food can help prevent the spread of this disease.