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Our Ongoing Efforts to Keep Hepatitis A at Bay

May is Hepatitis Awareness Month. All month long, you can learn more about symptoms, testing, and treatment for this viral disease. We begin our series with recent health concerns across the country about hepatitis A.

When we hear about disease outbreaks or events in other states, we start applying that information to Pierce County. We research, investigate and manage diseases to protect you and your family.Hepatitis A outbreaks across the country have made thousands of people sick. Hepatitis A—like hepatitis and C —is a viral disease that spreads easily and can cause severe liver disease.

An infographic that shows what hepatitis A is, how it spreads, and now to protect against it.

Thanks to routine childhood vaccinations, annual cases of hepatitis A in Pierce County are in the single digits. The county has no hepatitis A cases currently. With the spike in cases across the country among people living homeless, we want to take precautions, so our communities are safe. 

Is hepatitis A common in the United States?

Hepatitis A used to be very common in the U.S. before the vaccine was available in the 1990s. Now, children receive routine immunizations against hepatitis A, and cases fell to historic lows between 2012-2015. Beginning in 2016, there have been large outbreaks of hepatitis A among people living homeless in some areas of the country. More than 15,000 people got sick from 2016 to March 2019. 

Hepatitis A is still very common in many countries outside the U.S. Before you travel abroad, check to see if you need the hepatitis A vaccine. 

How does hepatitis A spread?

Hepatitis A usually comes from an infected person’s stool. If that person doesn’t wash their hands well after using the bathroom, they can then spread the disease to other people. The virus spreads through:

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

It takes just a small amount of the virus to make someone sick. Proper handwashing can keep hepatitis A from spreading and people in our community healthy. 

People living homeless are more at risk because they might live in crowded conditions and sometimes do not have running water to keep their hands clean. Many people living homeless are at an age when they did not receive a routine childhood vaccination against hepatitis A.

What is the Health Department doing to protect Pierce County?

County, state, and national public health agencies are working together to prevent more hepatitis A outbreaks. In Pierce County, we’re doing our part. 

To protect Pierce County residents from hepatitis A, we work with community partners to ensure vulnerable people and those at risk for the disease get vaccinated. In addition to people living homeless, vulnerable people include:

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

We recently sent a reminder to Pierce County healthcare providers to be aware of hepatitis A and to vaccinate people. The Health Department recommends infants start their hepatitis B vaccination series at birth and their hepatitis A vaccine series at age 12 months. 

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

Follow these four 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, ensure your infant is vaccinated. If you adopt a child from another country, it’s especially important to ensure vaccination. Most children with hepatitis A won’t look or act sick.
  4. Before you travel to another country, find out which vaccines you need. 

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