By Shannon Barbare
Twenty-six cases of hepatitis A have been reported in Colorado since January, which is more than Colorado typically sees in an entire year. Some adults are at higher risk for getting hepatitis A and should be vaccinated to protect against it.
Nine counties in Colorado have reported cases of hepatitis A, with most occurring along the Front Range. All cases involve adults. Among those, 73 percent are men, and more than 50 percent of the men had sexual contact with other men. About half the people who got sick were hospitalized; there have been no deaths. Some of the people who got sick in the current outbreak reported sexual activity at adult entertainment stores.
"We're working closely with local public health agencies and community partners to reach people who need a hepatitis A vaccination," said State Epidemiologist Dr. Rachel Herlihy. "People at higher risk should get the hepatitis A vaccine, which is extremely safe and highly effective."
If you're unsure whether you should be vaccinated, talk to your health care provider. People who have general questions about hepatitis A can call CO-Help at 303-389-1687 or 1-877-462-2911 for answers in English and Spanish.
Hepatitis A is a liver infection. Typically, a person gets the virus by ingesting food or drinks contaminated with stool from an infected person. Hepatitis A also can spread through sexual contact with an infected person, including oral-anal contact and when fingers or objects that have been in or near the anus of an infected person are placed in someone else's mouth.
People at higher risk for hepatitis A include men who have sexual contact with men, people who live with or have sex with someone who has hepatitis A, people who inject drugs and people with chronic liver disease.
Hepatitis A vaccine is routinely recommended for children, but most adults have not been vaccinated. Two doses of the vaccine, given six months apart, are recommended for:
- All children at age 1.
- Men who have sexual contact with men.
- People who live with or have sex with someone who has hepatitis A.
- People who use injection and non-injection illegal drugs.
- People with chronic (lifelong) liver diseases, such as cirrhosis, hepatitis B or hepatitis C.
- People who are homeless.
- People who are traveling to countries that have higher rates of hepatitis A.
- Family members or caregivers of a recent adoptee from countries where hepatitis A is common.
- People who are treated with blood clotting-factor concentrates.
Symptoms of hepatitis A include yellow skin and eyes, fever, fatigue, loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, dark urine and light-colored stools. Symptoms develop between two weeks and six weeks after an exposure. The illness can be severe and last several weeks or months. Rarely, hepatitis A causes liver failure and death.
"People with hepatitis A can be contagious for two weeks before they have symptoms. They can spread the virus without knowing it," Herlihy said. "It's easy to protect yourself and others by getting vaccinated."
Hepatitis A vaccine is readily available at doctors' offices and many retail pharmacies. People who need help paying for vaccinations should contact their local public health department.