Arizona seeing a surge in Hepatitis A cases despite vaccination drives, say health officials
Health officials have said that Arizona is seeing a surge in Hepatitis A cases majorly in Tuscon, but multiple cases have also been reported of the viral disease in metro Phoenix. The viral disease, that affects the liver, began its outbreak in November last year and cases have continued to rise since then despite efforts to step up vaccinations.
According to reports, the outbreak could take months to rein in, since most of the reported cases have been among homeless people, individuals with precarious housing situations and those who use illicit drugs. Homeless people, in fact, are the most vulnerable to the virus which easily spreads when people do not have access to good hygiene and do not wash their hands after using the restroom, along with intake of contaminated food and water.
In 2019 alone, Arizona has seen 212 cases of the viral disease, higher than any yearly statewide total in more than a decade, according to state statistics. Health officials in the state have further said that these numbers are expected to rise in the coming days. Although the disease has not claimed any lives in Arizona yet, public health officials say many of those infected had to be hospitalized.
According to ABC news, Hepatitis A causes the liver to swell, resulting in jaundice, fatigue, stomach pain, nausea, and diarrhea. People can be contagious for two weeks before and for one week after symptoms appear, and the best way to diagnose the viral disease is through blood tests. The vaccination for Hepatitis A consists of two doses administered six months apart, and it has been a recommended childhood vaccine since the mid-1990s.
Pima County Health Department's Deputy Director Paula Mandel said that most Hepatitis A cases had been registered in the Tuscon area, whereas in Phoenix, health providers are working to vaccinate those at risk. Dr. Rebecca Sunenshine, medical director for disease control at the Maricopa County Department of Public Health, added to the reports, saying that more than 90 percent of the cases in the county required hospitalization.
Reports suggest that people who have been diagnosed with Hepatitis A in Maricopa County were mostly those who had recently been in jail, along with the homeless and those who misuse drugs. Maricopa County requires the vaccination for preschool children, but not for those in grades K-12.
Public health officials, along with suggesting the vaccination route, have also suggested strategies that include handwashing with soap and water after going to the bathroom and before eating or preparing food; avoiding sex with anyone who has hepatitis A; and not sharing towels, toothbrushes, eating utensils, food, drinks, smokes or drug paraphernalia with other people.