Public health alert issued amid deadly hepatitis A outbreak

BOSTON (WHDH) - State health officials are announcing a deadly hepatitis A outbreak in Boston among homeless residents and those who struggle with substance abuse.

The Department of Public Health announced Monday that 65 Bay State residents who are either experiencing homelessness or are dealing with substance abuse issues have recently acquired acute hepatitis A infections — a viral infection that affects the liver and can cause severe illness.

One of those 65 people has died as a result of their infection, according to the DPH.

The dozens of cases prompted DPH to issue a public health alert that encourages local health departments to work with clinical and community-based agencies providing services to people experiencing homelessness and those with substance use disorder, especially those injecting drugs, to educate them about the health risks and to offer a vaccine.

Of the 65 cases, 45 percent are located in Boston with an increasing number in other cities and towns, including the Southeast and metro Boston areas.

“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 in a statement. “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.”

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 (yellowing of the skin and eyes), grey stools, and dark urine.

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