Colorado reports first death in hepatitis A outbreak

Shannon Barbare, Communications Specialist, 303-692-2039, shannon.barbare@state.co.us

For immediate release: Sept. 12, 2019

 

DENVER — A Denver resident is the first person to die in the Colorado hepatitis A outbreak that began nearly one year ago. The person had risk factors consistent with those experienced by others in this outbreak. 

 

Since Oct. 2018, 163 cases of hepatitis A have been reported in Colorado. People affected by this outbreak may have less access to preventive health care, poorer nutrition, crowded living conditions, and greater health risks. That includes people experiencing homelessness, substance use issues, and incarceration, and contacts of people with those risk factors. The risks to other populations in this outbreak is low.

 

Deaths from hepatitis A are rare, but they can occur, especially when people who have other medical conditions get the disease,” said Dr. Rachel Herlihy, state communicable disease epidemiologist. “This unfortunate death reminds us that the critical work our local public health agencies have been doing to vaccinate at-risk populations must continue. This outbreak is not over.”

 

Public health has vaccinated more than 8,000 at-risk individuals in Colorado since the outbreak began in October 2018, in addition to educating people, partners, and providers about the illness and how to prevent it.

 

Hepatitis A is a highly contagious virus that infects the liver and can cause liver disease lasting a few weeks to a serious illness lasting months. Rarely, it can cause death. It is easily prevented with a safe, effective vaccine. Hepatitis A usually spreads when a person unknowingly ingests the virus from objects, food, or drinks that are contaminated by small, undetected amounts of stool from an infected person. It also can spread through close personal contact with an infected person such as through sex, caring for someone who is ill, or sharing drugs or drug equipment with someone who may be ill.  

 

The majority of cases in this outbreak have occurred in El Paso County, but cases also have occurred in Arapahoe, Boulder, Denver, Douglas, Fremont, Jefferson and Pueblo counties. The number of cases in the Denver metro area has been increasing since July. Information is updated weekly in the state health department’s Hepatitis A Outbreak Report. Hepatitis A vaccine is available at doctor’s offices and many retail pharmacies. People can check vaccinefinder.org to find a retail location. People who need help paying for vaccinations should contact their local public health agency.

 

To learn more about symptoms, prevention, and vaccination recommendations, visit the department’s hepatitis A web page. People who have general questions about hepatitis A can call CO-Help at 303-389-1687 or 1-877-462-2911, or by email at COHELP@RMPDC.org, for answers in English and Spanish.