Outbreak of Hepatitis A in Santa Cruz

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News reports indicate there have been 65 people infected with hepatitis A in Santa Cruz, CA since April of this year. Of the people who have been affected by this outbreak, most are homeless or considered to be drug users. This has local health officials concerned.

Local health officials have released some information about the outbreak. They claim the outbreak has affected twice as many men as women with 62% of patients being under the age of 40. 80% reported being homeless and 75% indicated that they had participated in drug use before their infection.

Dr. Arnold Leff, Santa Cruz County health officer, has been leading an effort to contain the disease.  So far, Dr. Leff has helped to organize 850 vaccinations, create ongoing vaccination clinics in six locations including jails and emergency centers and plans have begun to vaccinate county staff and others who run the risk of infection when treating patients.

Dominican Hospital in Santa Cruz reports seeing more than 30 cases of hepatitis A since spring. “It is really concerning,” said Dr. John Kaufmann, an infectious disease specialist who has worked at Dominican Hospital for 12 years. “We have two cases a year normally.”

These kinds of outbreaks call attention to hepatitis as a whole. It is important to know how to protect yourself from the virus.

Hepatitis means inflammation of the liver. The liver is considered a vital organ because it filters blood, processes nutrients and battles infection. The functions of the liver are affected by inflammation and damaged tissue. While hepatitis can be caused by alcoholism, toxins or some medications, it is usually caused by a virus. The most common types of viral hepatitis are hepatitis A, hepatitis B and hepatitis C.

Hepatitis A, which has caused this current outbreak, is usually spread through the mouth when contact is made with objects, food or drinks contaminated by the feces of an infected person. While hepatitis A can be transmitted through sexual contact, it is more commonly transmitted through contaminated food and water. This happens when a person does not wash their hands before handling these items. The best way to prevent hepatitis A is to get vaccinated.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there were around 2,500 acute cases of hepatitis A in the United States in 2014. The rate of hepatitis A in the U.S. are the lowest they have been in 40 years. The hepatitis A vaccine was introduced to the public  in 1995 and health professionals now routinely vaccinate all children, travelers to certain countries and persons at risk for the disease. Many experts believe hepatitis A vaccination is directly responsible for the decrease in this type of infection over the past two decades.

If you are concerned that you may be experiencing symptoms of hepatitis, or may have been exposed to the virus, you should seek medical care. If you were exposed to hepatitis through sexual contact it is possible that you may have been exposed to other STDs as well. The best way to know whether or not you are infected is to have hepatitis testing completed. You should also have a full round of STD testing in order to be certain about the current status of your sexual health.

Article by Robert Francis Curtis

Robert studied at Columbia College Chicago. He has worked as a Care Adviser here at Analyte Health for a while and looks forward to spreading more information about sexual health.