Since 2017, Missouri has been amid a Hepatitis A outbreak. The highest concentration of cases has been - and is currently - in the southeast region. But state health officials say if at-risk populations don’t take the necessary actions to avoid contracting the disease, it could spread further.
Hepatitis A is a viral infection of the liver, and it’s seen mostly among people who use illicit injection or non-injection drugs, those experiencing homelessness, people who have been detained, men who have sex with men, and those who have had close contact with someone who has it. In older populations and people with other liver diseases, the virus can cause liver failure or even death.
As of Tuesday, the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services had recorded 414 cases throughout the state since Sept. 15, 2017, four of those in Cape Girardeau County. Over 50% of these cases have resulted in hospitalization, and two have resulted in death.
Joseline Hernandez, an epidemiology specialist with the DHSS, says this particular outbreak originated in southeast Missouri, giving it more time to spread in this area.
“If it's in a community, it stays there for a little bit. But then the population starts moving... People move and have contact,” says Hernandez. “And that's how we saw it start spreading to the rest of the state.”
But, it’s not just Missouri - it’s currently an issue nationwide. According to Kaiser Health News, 27 states, including Missouri, have either a new or ongoing outbreak of Hepatitis A.
The vaccine for Hepatitis A is recommended for babies, but in 2016, it’s reported that only 61% of children between 19 and 35 months old had gotten both of two doses. Only 9.5% of adults 19 and older had received the shots. In addition to vaccination, the DHSS says careful handwashing after using the bathroom and before preparing food can also hinder the virus.
If you think you have been exposed to - or have symptoms of - Hepatitis A, the DHSS says to contact your healthcare provider immediately. You can become ill up to 7 weeks following exposure, and symptoms include loss of appetite, nausea, tiredness, fever, stomach pain, brown colored urine, and light colored stools. Yellowing of the skin or eyes might also occur.