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Hepatitis A is on the rise in Washington

This post is from Aug. 5. We continue to work with partner agencies and our communities take preventative steps against hepatitis A. As of Aug. 23, Pierce County has no reported cases.

On July 30, 2019, Washington State Department of Health declared an outbreak of hepatitis A. Four Washington counties have a total of 13 cases of hepatitis A among people living homeless or using drugs. Pierce County currently has no cases.

Large hepatitis A outbreaks have occurred across the United States since 2016. Since then:

  • More than 22,000 people became sick.
  • 13,200 needed hospital care.
  • 221 people died.

People living homeless or using drugs or alcohol may have pre-existing liver disease. This puts them at increased risk for severe illness and death from hepatitis A.

You can easily get a hepatitis A vaccination to prevent the disease.

How does hepatitis A spread?

Hepatitis A usually spreads through an infected person’s poop. When people don’t wash their hands well after using the bathroom, they can spread it to others. The virus also spreads through:

  • Shared food.
  • Contaminated objects.
  • Sex with someone who has hepatitis A.
  • Shared drug items.

Even a very small amount of virus particles can make a person sick. Proper handwashing can keep hepatitis A from spreading.Hepatitis A: Health warning for people living homeless. Hep A is spreading in people living homeless in the U.S.

Am I at risk of getting hepatitis A?

If you don’t have a hepatitis A vaccination, you can get the disease. People living homeless are more at risk because they might live in crowded conditions or lack running water to keep their hands clean. Other vulnerable people:

  • Recreational injection or non-injection drug users.
  • People with certain medical conditions like chronic liver disease.
  • Men who have sex with men.

What can I do to protect myself and my family from hepatitis A?

Follow these 4 steps to protect against the virus:

  1. Wash your hands after using the bathroom and before handling food.
  2. Talk to your healthcare provider to get vaccinated.
  3. If you are a new parent, make sure your infant gets a vaccination. If you adopt a child from another country, it’s especially important to make sure you and your family have vaccinations. Most children with hepatitis A won’t look or act sick.
  4. Before you travel to another country, find out what vaccines you need.

What is the Health Department doing to protect Pierce County?

When disease outbreaks happen in other areas of the country, we use that opportunity to get ahead locally. We want to do everything possible to prevent a disease outbreak from happening here. We take these steps:

  • Work with community partners, like Pierce County Medical Reserve Corps, to make sure vulnerable people get vaccinated. These efforts will increase if any cases of hepatitis A occur locally.
  • Encourage parents and healthcare providers to follow the childhood vaccination schedule.
  • Food safety is a critical step to prevent the spread of diseases like hepatitis A. We inspect food establishments to make sure food workers:
    • Wash their hands.
    • Use utensils or gloves to avoid touching ready-to-eat food.
    • Stay home from work if they’re sick.

Right now, we are taking these additional steps:

  • Alert healthcare providers to an emerging disease threat and tell them what to look for in patients.
  • Encourage vaccination for those at risk for a preventable illness.
  • Provide prevention and sanitation information to shelters, service providers and community members.
  • Connect with social service providers to increase awareness and communication channels.

Public health works every day to protect and improve the health of our community. You may not hear about this quiet work that goes on in the background of life. We all depend on important steps like these to prevent the spread of dangerous diseases.

Learn more about hepatitis A and other types of hepatitis virus at