SPOKANE, Wash. — Two homeless adults in Spokane County have died from complications associated with a Hepatitis A infection, according to the Spokane Regional Health District.
SRHD Spokesperson Kelli Hawkins said a total of 61 cases of hepatitis A cases have been reported in Spokane County. Most of those cases occurred in people living homeless and/or people who use drugs.
"Unfortunately, the population most at risk of Hepatitis A exposure – those who are homeless or who use illicit drugs – are also more likely to have many other health issues," said Dr. Bob Lutz, Spokane Regional Health District’s (SRHD) health officer. “When infected with hepatitis A, the illness is the final straw that results in hospitalization and possibly death.”
SRHD coordinated multiple vaccination clinics since June when the outbreak was declared. They administered more than 1,600 vaccines. The health district also conducted education programs and outreach to healthcare providers, community centers and homeless service providers to teach vulnerable populations the risks of contracting hepatitis A, how they can prevent exposure and what symptoms to look for.
Hepatitis A causes inflammation of the liver and can cause illness ranging from a mild infection with no symptoms to a more severe illness that can result in liver failure and death.
It usually spreads when a person unknowingly ingests the virus from touching objects or ingesting food or drink contaminated with undetectable amounts of stool from an infected person. It can also spread from close, personal contact with an infected person. This includes caring for an infected person or using drugs with others. The virus is a vaccine-preventable disease.
Hepatitis A vaccination is recommended for all children at a year old, travelers to countries where Hepatitis A is common, people experiencing homelessness, men who have sex with men, people who use or inject drugs, people with chronic or long-term liver disease, people with clotting factor disorders, people with direct contact with others who have Hepatitis A, family and caregivers of adoptees from countries where hepatitis A is common, and anyone wishing to obtain immunity.
Adults are more likely to have symptoms than children. If symptoms develop, they usually appear two to seven weeks after infection and can include yellow skin or eyes (jaundice), dark urine and/or pale stools, loss of appetite, fever, diarrhea, fatigue, vomiting, joint pain, and abdominal pain.