Bay State health officials issue Hepatitis A advisory

WORCESTER (WHDH) - Health officials in Worcester have issued a public health advisory directed toward the homeless community and those experiencing substance abuse problems after an increase in confirmed Hepatitis A cases.

The Worcester Division of Public Health has vaccinated 206 people against Hepatitis A in an effort to quell a rising number of confirmed cases in the Boston and Worcester areas, according to a release issued by WDPH.

Hepatitis A spreads person to person through contaminated food or dirty needles used for injection drugs. The virus also can spread from sexual contact with an infected person. Anyone living in unsanitary conditions is at greater risk of contracting the disease.

Eighty people experiencing homelessness and/or substance use disorder statewide have recently acquired an acute hepatitis A infection. One person has died as a result.

Of the 80 hepatitis A cases, nearly half are located in Boston with an increasing number in other cities and towns, including the Southeast and metro Boston areas.

Prior to this, Massachusetts has been averaging 50 cases of HAV infection annually.

“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,” said Public Health Commissioner Monica Bharel, MD, MPH.

According to numbers from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s 2017 Annual Homeless Assessment Report to Congress, there were 17,565 people in Massachusetts counted as experiencing homelessness as of January 2017.

Hepatitis A virus can cause a mild to severe illness lasting a few weeks to several months and, rarely, can lead to death. Symptoms include fatigue, fever, loss of appetite and nausea.

There is no specific treatment for people suffering from this disease.

“It is important that we vaccinate as many high-risk individuals as possible in order to achieve herd immunity,” Dr. Michael P. Hirch, Medical Director for the city of Worcester said.

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