N.H. seeing rise in cases of hepatitis A, often linked to homelessness and drug use

Monitor staff
Published: 2/5/2019 11:48:39 AM

New Hampshire may be experiencing the start of an outbreak of hepatitis A, a highly contagious liver infection caused by a virus that is often passed on objects, food or drinks contaminated by an infected person. The virus can survive for months on surfaces.

The state Division of Public Health Services says that over the past three months, 13 people have been diagnosed with acute hepatitis A infections, including 7 in January, compared to an average 1 to 10 people annually over the past five years.

These new diagnoses have occurred throughout the southern part of the state, including one in Merrimack County. 

“There are large outbreaks of hepatitis A occurring in multiple other states across the country,” said Dr. Benjamin Chan, state epidemiologist. “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.

“Thankfully, hepatitis A is a vaccine-preventable disease. We encourage anybody who wishes to protect themselves from hepatitis A to talk with their healthcare provider about obtaining the very effective hepatitis A vaccine,” he said.

People most at risk of contracting the virus are the homeless, people using recreational drugs, travelers to countries with high rates of the virus, and gay and bisexual men.

Hepatitis A causes inflammation of the liver; severe infections can result in liver failure and even death. Symptoms include fever, tiredness, loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, dark urine, clay-colored bowel movements, joint pain, and jaundice, or yellowing of the skin and eyes. These symptoms can last weeks to months and there is no specific treatment.

The heptatitis A vaccine is recommended for anybody aged one year or older, and particularly for those at risk or those with chronic liver diseases such as hepatitis B and hepatitis C. 

For more information on hepatitis A, visit dhhs.nh.gov/dphs/cdcs/hepatitisa/index.htm.




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