Health Department looking into spike in Hep A cases

WYOMING – The Wyoming Department of Health (WDH) and the Casper-Natrona County Health Department are investigating a recent increase in reported Hepatitis A cases in Natrona County.

Five cases have been confirmed so far among Natrona County residents. That is a significant increase over the usual number of local cases. Clay Van Houten, Infectious Disease Epidemiology Program manager with WDH, said the last reported Hepatitis A infection in the area was in 2012.

“We typically expect about two reported Hepatitis A infections, statewide, per year,” Van Houten added.

The increase is concerning in light of several large outbreaks of Hepatitis A reported in the United States this year, including an ongoing outbreak in Salt Lake City, Utah. “These outbreaks have primarily involved homeless and transient people,” Van Houten said.

Hepatitis A can cause infection in the liver. The virus is primarily spread person-to-person through oral contact with contaminated items such as swallowing food or drink tainted with a tiny amount infected feces. To date, a common source of infections has not been found connected with the Natrona County cases.

Infection with Hepatitis A typically results in symptoms in older children and adults. Symptoms usually occur abruptly and include fever, fatigue, loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, dark urine, clay-colored stools, joint pain and jaundice.

“Young children who are infected do not usually show symptoms, although they may play a role in spreading the virus,” Van Houten said.

Van Houten said the best way to prevent Hepatitis A is through vaccination. Handwashing, especially after using the bathroom, changing diapers, and before preparing or eating food, plays an important role in preventing the spread of the virus.

There can be a significant delay between when someone who is exposed to the virus and when they show symptoms. “People recently exposed to Hepatitis A who have not been vaccinated should receive a vaccine as soon as possible,” Van Houten said.

Local medical professionals in have been alerted.

What is Hepatitis A? (FindaTopDoc.com)

Specific risk factors for Hepatitis A include:

  • Persons with direct contact with a person who has Hepatitis A
  • Men who have sex with men
  • Users of injection and non-injection drugs
  • Travelers to countries with high rates of hepatitis A infection

Vaccination to prevent Hepatitis A is routinely recommended. Children aged at least 12 months and less than 24 months should receive two doses of the vaccine separated by at least 6 months and no less than 18 months. The vaccine series is also recommended for people aged 2 years or older who have not already received it.

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