Hepatitis A outbreak feared; Case identified in Nashua
NASHUA — Yellowing of the skin and eyes, nausea and vomiting are some symptoms those infected with hepatitis A are experiencing as the virus spreads across Southern New Hampshire.
Tuesday, officials with the New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services said they have identified 13 individuals diagnosed with hepatitis A during the last three months, including five in Hillsborough County — and one in the city of Nashua.
By comparison, New Hampshire’s statewide total number of hepatitis A cases for a typical year is only seven.
“There are large outbreaks of hepatitis A occurring in multiple other states across the country,” New Hampshire State Epidemiologist Dr. Benjamin Chan said. “While these outbreaks have often started in individuals experiencing homelessness and those with a substance use disorder, once it is in our communities it can spread very easily even to others without specific risk factors.”
The hepatitis A virus (HAV) is contagious and is transmitted when a person ingests the virus from objects, food or drinks contaminated by small, undetected amounts of stool from an infected person. The virus can survive for months on surfaces.
State officials said people at higher than average risk of contracting the virus are those who are:
— experiencing homelessness;
— using injection or non-injection recreational drugs, including marijuana;
— experiencing homelessness or with unstable housing;
— gay or bisexual;
— ongoing, close contact with individuals who use injection and non-injection drugs, or with individuals experiencing homelessness;
— close contacts of individuals diagnosed with hepatitis A; and
— travelers to countries with high rates of the virus.
The virus causes inflammation of the liver. Severe infections can result in liver failure and even death.
“Thankfully, hepatitis A is a vaccine-preventable disease. We encourage anybody who wishes to protect themselves from hepatitis A to talk with their health care provider about obtaining the very effective hepatitis A vaccine,” Chan said.
For more information on hepatitis A, please visit www.dhhs.nh.gov/dphs/cdcs/hepatitisa/index.htm.