Louisiana Hepatitis A Outbreak: Infections Spreading Across State, Officials Warn

Hepatitis A
File photo: Hepatitis A positive. The Louisiana Office of Public Health (OPH) said it is currently investigating the outbreak of highly contagious liver infections caused by the hepatitis A virus. iStock

An outbreak of hepatitis A virus (HAV) infections has been reported in Louisiana, the state's Department of Health warned in a release published today.

The region's Office of Public Health (OPH) has confirmed it is currently investigating a spate of highly contagious liver infections seemingly caused by the hepatitis A virus.

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Since December 14, Louisiana has had 28 reported cases of HAV infection, three of which were not linked to the fresh outbreak. Officials said today that 76 percent of the victims had been hospitalized, there had been zero deaths, and the median age of victims was 40.

Parishes including Morehouse, Ouachita, Baton Rouge, Livingston and Allen have been worst hit. In comparison, there were eight cases of hepatitis A reported in Louisiana in 2017.

Dr. Frank Welch, a director for the Department of Health, said transmissions appear to be via direct contact. "To address the outbreak, the department...has received one-time funding to purchase vaccine for the virus and is working with partner organizations to provide services to people experiencing homelessness or drug use–two of the most at-risk groups," Welch said.

The infections can be prevented by a vaccine, officials noted in their advisory.

It stated: "Hepatitis A can spread when a person ingests the virus from objects, food or drinks contaminated by small, undetected amounts of feces from an infected person. It can also spread from close personal contact with an infected person" such as sexual intercourse.

Symptoms include fever, fatigue, loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, dark urine, clay-colored bowel movements, joint pain and yellowing of the skin and eyes.

Via The News-Star, a Louisiana-based newspaper, Welch said the state typically treats between 15 to 20 cases in a whole year—much fewer than recent numbers.

No "pathway" between the new infections has yet been established. The medical official told the news outlet those exposed may take some time to show any symptoms. "There is about two weeks where they feel perfectly fine, and they're infectious before they start to feel sick," Welch said.

The department's advisory said while some hepatitis A infections can result in liver failure and death, those remain rare—typically impacting people older than 50 or with liver diseases.

It advised: "The best way to prevent hepatitis A is through vaccination with the hepatitis A vaccine Unvaccinated people who have been exposed recently—within two weeks—to the hepatitis A virus should get the hepatitis A vaccine or a shot of immune globulin to prevent severe illness."