Deschutes County Public Health officials are investigating three linked cases of hepatitis A, a vaccine-preventable viral disease spread through close contact with others in poor sanitary conditions. The three cases were adults who have experienced housing instability.
“We feel like it’s contained at this point, but you can never be sure,” said Heather Kaisner, program manager for Deschutes County Public Health. “The majority of people — especially young people because it’s required for school — are going to be vaccinated for hep A.”
Deschutes County has had five hepatitis A cases from 2014 to 2017, and it didn’t record any in 2018.
Other regions of the country, including San Diego and Santa Fe, New Mexico, have experienced large outbreaks of hepatitis A among homeless people. Oregon public health officials recently redirected their prevention strategies toward homeless populations that now represent the most vulnerable group for infection.
Previously, hepatitis A outbreaks were linked primarily to international travelers or foodborne outbreaks, and infections occurred mainly in children. The introduction of a hepatitis A vaccine in 1996 led to a steady decline in outbreaks, particularly after states such as Oregon required immunization for school entry.
County health officials have secured additional hepatitis A vaccine from the state and will be offering it at places that serve homeless people, including Jericho Road and the Back Door Cafe at the United Methodist Church in Bend.
Kaisner said the three cases did not involve any restaurant or school exposures.
Hepatitis A is typically transmitted when someone ingests something that has been contaminated with the feces of an infected person. Symptoms include fever, fatigue, nausea, abdominal pain, dark urine, joint pain and jaundice. Most people recover with limited treatment, but complications can occur, especially among people already in poor health.
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