Larimer County Health Department Working to Prevent the Spread of Hepatitis A

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Katie O’Donnell
Larimer County Health & Environment

Since 2017 there has been an ongoing outbreak of hepatitis A in Colorado. This outbreak has risk factors for people experiencing homelessness, people who use drugs, people who are or have been recently incarcerated, and men who have sex with men. The Health Department has been partnering with local agencies to vaccinate individuals who fall into these at risk populations to try and prevent an outbreak of hepatitis A in Larimer County. Partnerships include Sister Mary Alice Murphy Center for Hope, Fort Collins Rescue Mission, Outreach Fort Collins, Northern Colorado Health Network, 137 Homeless Connect, Front Porch, Larimer County Community Corrections, Larimer County Jail, Larimer County Sheriff’s Office and many more. 

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In 2019 the Health Department vaccinated 561 people within the at risk populations at 48 clinics. Work will continue in 2020. So far, there have been no Larimer County cases of hepatitis A tied to the current outbreak. In Colorado there have been 322 cases of hepatitis A across 17 counties. 232 of those cases have been hospitalized, with 2 deaths. 

 

Hepatitis A is a contagious liver infection caused by the hepatitis A virus. The disease usually spreads when a person unknowingly ingests the virus from objects, food, or drinks that are contaminated by small, undetected amounts of poop from an infected person. It also spreads through close, personal contact with an infected person, such as through sex, caring for someone who is sick, or sharing drugs with someone who is sick.

 

“Our focus is on preventing the spread of hepatitis A, and we do this through vaccination. We’re working with our partner agencies to provide free vaccine to anyone who might be at high risk for getting the disease. We couldn’t do this work without these strong partnerships with agencies in our community, and we are so grateful for their collaboration in helping us prevent an outbreak here in Larimer County,” said Tom Gonzales, M.P.H., Public Health Director for the Larimer County Department of Health and Environment.

 

Hepatitis A varies in severity, with mild illness lasting two weeks or less and more severe illness lasting 4-6 weeks or longer. Even mildly ill persons can be highly infectious. People who are older or have health problems are at higher risk of dying from hepatitis A.

 

Symptoms begin about 2-6 weeks after being exposed to the virus. Symptoms commonly include mild fever, loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, tiredness, pain in the upper right side of the abdomen, dark urine, and jaundice (or yellowness of eyes or skin).

 

Vaccination is the best way to prevent hepatitis A. The vaccine is safe and effective. Children routinely receive the vaccination, but because the vaccine wasn’t available until the mid-1990s, many adults have not been vaccinated. Hepatitis A vaccine is available at doctors’ offices and many retail pharmacies, as well as through outreach clinics and by appointment at the Larimer County Health Department. 

 

Learn more about hepatitis A at larimer.org/HepA.