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Reports of hepatitis A cases climbing in Clark County

Updated August 15, 2019 - 12:18 am

The number of hepatitis A cases in Clark County continues to climb, with 83 cases reported since November. There also has been one death this year from the virus.

That number is higher than the total number of cases in the past three years combined, the Southern Nevada Health District announced Wednesday.

Of the reported cases, more than 92 percent involved people who used illegal drugs, and more than 80 percent were in people experiencing homelessness.

Hepatitis A is one of five types of the hepatitis virus, all of which are capable of damaging the liver. It is present in the feces of infected people and is most often transmitted through consumption of contaminated water or food.

That’s why providing the homeless with access to running water and good hygiene is so important, said Emily Paulsen, executive director of the Nevada Homeless Alliance.

“They’re living in places no human should live. These community members often do not have access to restrooms or a place to wash their hands or take a shower,” Paulsen said in a statement.

Because more younger people are getting vaccinated, they are “mostly immune,” health district medical investigator Vit Kraushaar said. But as the virus spreads, it can easily creep into the public as people are more likely to make casual contact with an infected person.

“In this outbreak there was one death before the outbreak was declared,” he said. “These number are going to keep increasing in the immediate term before starting to decrease.”

Kraushaar said those with multiple or pre-existing health conditions are more susceptible to die after contracting hepatitis A.

Day shelters at the Salvation Army and Catholic Charities provide restrooms and showers for people who are sheltered overnight. Clean the World Foundation also provides mobile showers in partnership with agencies, but for those that are on the outskirts of town, options are extremely limited, Paulsen said.

A county homeless census report released last week found that 60 percent of the county’s estimated 5,530 homeless were without shelter.

The spread of hepatitis A is a national issue. Since March 2017, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has assisted multiple states and local health authorities in responding to outbreaks. As of Aug. 9, 29 states have reported 23,978 cases of the virus, resulting in 14,330 hospitalizations and 236 deaths, the health district said.

The Southern Nevada Health District has been using information from recent cases to identify and notify hospitals about the surge and identify locations to target vaccinations. It also is continuing outreach and immunization efforts with health care partner groups and sharing information and recommendations about the outbreak.

The health district partnered with agencies like HELP of Southern Nevada last month to urge the homeless to get vaccinated. The effort targeted high-risk areas where the homeless congregate far from the services provided at the so-called Corridor of Hope in downtown Las Vegas, including drainage tunnels near McCarran International Airport, where they distributed hygiene products and sought to persuade individuals they encountered to get vaccinated.

Since the outbreak announcement in June, the Health District has administered 995 hepatitis A vaccinations to adults ages 18 and older. A total of 1,785 hepatitis A vaccinations have been administered to adults by all providers in Clark County, the district said.

“We really need to be in the total of tens of thousands of doses in the next year or coming years. … We’re ramping up our vaccination efforts, but we’re really trying to recruit partners to help us,” Kraushaar said. “This is too big of a challenge for the Southern Nevada Health District alone. These outbreaks can last months, they can last longer than a year.”

Contact Briana Erickson at berickson@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-5244. Follow @ByBrianaE on Twitter.

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