NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Louisiana's Department of Health has declared an outbreak of hepatitis A, hoping to keep numbers low for the highly contagious liver disease.
Twenty-five of the 28 cases reported this year are counted in the outbreak, said Dr. Joe Kanter, the assistant state health officer.
"Compared to what some other states are experiencing, we're quite fortunate and want to keep it that way," Kanter said Tuesday, noting that Kentucky is reporting 3,122 cases, Tennessee 561, Florida 413 and Arkansas 217.
Arkansas, California, Indiana, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, New Mexico, North Carolina, Ohio, Utah and West Virginia also have reported outbreaks, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. From January 2017 to October 2018, 12 states had reported more than 7,500 infections, it said in October.
"We see a handful of hepatitis A cases every year," Kanter said. "What has made this year different is the increased number, and the number specifically linked to outbreaks in the Baton Rouge area and the Morehouse Parish area."
Kanter said officials hope to convince people most at risk to get vaccinated, and want to best coordinate federal, state and community resources to fight the disease.
"It's easily preventable; the vaccine is great," Kanter said.
Risk groups include illegal drug users and people who are homeless, jailed or in transient housing. A national advisory committee voted in October to recommend routine vaccinations for homeless people. Most of Louisiana's patients have used illegal drugs or been in contact with someone else who had the disease, Kanter said.
The Office of Public Health has bought 3,000 doses of vaccine, plans to buy 1,600 more and is working with partner organizations to reach homeless people and drug users, according to a statement from the Louisiana Department of Health.
The department said five to 10 cases have been reported in Morehouse Parish, with fewer than five in neighboring Ouachita Parish, according to the department's website. East and West Baton Rouge parishes also have reported fewer than five each, along with neighboring Pointe Coupee, Ascension and Livingston parishes. New Orleans and St. Tammany parishes also reported fewer than five each, as have Allen Parish in southwest Louisiana and Lafayette Parish in Cajun country.
The illness is spread by eating or drinking something that's contaminated, during sex or through close contact such as living with an infected person.
It can make people sick for weeks, even months. The CDC said in October that about 74 people had died and more than 4,300 have been hospitalized.
Some infected people never show symptoms, which can include nausea and vomiting, abdominal pain, diarrhea, feeling tired, fever, loss of appetite, yellowing of the skin and eyes (jaundice), dark urine, pale-colored feces and joint pain.
"In the New Orleans area, we have a large homeless encampment and certainly opioid use," said Kanter, who also is regional medical director in the New Orleans area. "We certainly have risk factors in place for a larger epidemic. We owe it upon ourselves to be as proactive as possible."
Posted on Fri, December 21, 2018
by By JANET McCONNAUGHEY, Associated Press