Caseloads have nearly doubled as outbreaks spread nationwide.
A severe but localized hepatitis A outbreak in San Diego last fall has moved east across multiple state lines and shows no sign of slowing down. Cases of hepatitis A in the United States have nearly doubled since this time last year, even as public health officials have worked to stem the tide of infections through vaccine campaigns and community education.
With the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issuing an emergency alert to local and state public health officials nationwide, warning of the sharp rise in Hepatitis A cases Public health officials are geared for potential for outbreaks in their jurisdictions.
The CDC reports that 68 percent of the cases over the last year and a half that are linked to the ongoing outbreak are among people who are homeless, use illicit drugs or both. While hepatitis A outbreaks are common in countries without proper sanitation systems and outbreaks among large homeless populations have occurred in other countries, the pattern of this outbreak is unprecedented in the U.S. in recent years. Since the licensing of a Hepatitis A vaccine in 1995, the U.S. has typically just seen cases associated with contaminated imported food.
This year’s numbers are on track to significantly surpass last year’s total of 2,984, with 1,772 cases as of June 2 and seven more months to go. Public health experts fear that hepatitis A outbreaks are now a nationwide problem that will cost local and state health departments millions of dollars to control.
The latest CDC alert, which was issued Monday, notes that hepatitis A can be spread by “contaminated needles and other injection paraphernalia, specific sexual contact and practices,” and “generally poor sanitary conditions.” Among the most affected populations, “transience, economic instability, limited access to healthcare, distrust of public officials and public messages, and frequent lack of follow-up contact information” are making the outbreaks “difficult to control,” the CDC added.