BOSTON – Health officials with the Commonwealth of Massachusetts announced a hepatitis A infection outbreak in the state today, September 24.
State health officials said one person has died and 64 others since April have acquired acute hepatitis A infection in an outbreak.
Hepatitis A is transmitted primarily through fecal-oral contact that can be associated with living in unsanitary conditions and poor hygiene.
Symptoms include fever, fatigue, loss of appetite, stomach pain, nausea, diarrhea, and jaundice, grey stools, and dark urine.
The state Department of Health has issued a public health alert.
Most of the 65 cases involve members of the homeless population as well as those battling substance abuse.
The Commonwealth is encouraging local health departments to work with agencies providing services to people who are homeless and those dealing with substance abuse to educate them about the health risks and to offer the vaccine. The state has scheduled a call for Wednesday with local health officials.
Of the 65 hepatitis cases, nearly half are located in Boston.
Forty of the cases were reported during the last two weeks of August and first two weeks of September.
“We have seen a spike in cases of hepatitis A, with outbreaks being reported in at least 10 other states in similar populations, constituting thousands of cases nationwide,” Public Health Commissioner Monica Bharel said. “As part of our statewide response here in Massachusetts, we are reaching out to all local health departments to encourage and assist their efforts to provide education and vaccinations for people at risk.”
“There may be misconceptions about the different types of hepatitis,” said Dr. Catherine Brown, state epidemiologist. “Hepatitis A infection can be prevented through vaccination and one dose of vaccine can provide substantial protection. It can also be prevented through proper hand washing, especially after using the toilet and before eating. There is no specific treatment for hepatitis A infection; most otherwise healthy people recover on their own.”
Most of those affected in Massachusetts also have evidence of hepatitis C, a blood-borne infection highly associated with injection drug use, making their illness more severe.