Hepatitis A outbreak expected to last months

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah (ABC4 Utah) - Utah is one of three hot spots seeing a high number of Hepatitis A outbreaks, mainly among its homeless population. Health officials believe they could continue to see new cases for the next several months.

The outbreaks started back in May in San Diego, but Salt Lake City started to notice serious issues in August. Since then, at least 75 cases have been reported statewide. With at least 3-4 new cases being discovered each week.

The normal amount of Hepatitis A cases is around 2-4 a year.

Nicholas Rupp of the Salt Lake County Health Department said one of the main contributors to the outbreak among those experiencing homelessness is a lack of access to hygiene needs.

"Places to use the restroom, places to wash their hands, and those things all contribute to the transmission of Hepatitis A," said Rupp.

Hepatitis A is often spread because of fecal matter getting on someones hand. If they don't wash properly they can spread those to surfaces they touch.

With temperatures dropping outdoor hand washing stations are not an option. Although people often use hand sanitizers, Rupp notes it's not always effective.

"Hepatitis A is not killed effectively by alcohol-based hand sanitizers," said Rupp. "We always say hand sanitizers no matter what you're trying to accomplish are not a substitute for hand washing."

Salt Lake County hasn't had to use bleach washes on the sidewalks like San Diego did. The 4th Street Clinic has been emphasizing vaccines and hand washing to all of their clients. Medical Director Dr. Michele Goldberg said patients are responding well.

"Most people are totally for it," said Dr. Goldberg. "They want to get a vaccine and would rather get a vaccine than be in the hospital."

The clinic has given out more than 350 vaccines, and the state is helping other organizations distribute more. The reason the outbreak could take months to get under control is the viruses long incubation period. It can take weeks or months to show symptoms and the virus is normally spread by then.

Dr. Goldberg knows they have a ways to go, but said their staff is going to remain vigilant in getting people the information and help they need.

"You don't lose the steam that you had initially," said Dr. Goldberg. "Really just every patient that comes in the door, every medical accident says OK have they had their vaccines."

With several organizations giving out holiday meals the health department is urging all volunteers and recipients of the food to wash their hands, and have facilities available.

The 4th Street Clinic and county health department are planning a flu and Hep A vaccine clinic in Pioneer Park on Wednesday.

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