Public Health Update: Important Hepatitis A Information

Outbreaks of hepatitis A have been reported across the U.S., with Minnesota being the most recent state affected. During these outbreaks, 24,952 individuals have become ill, and 60% of them needed to be hospitalized.

We are working with partners to quickly investigate any new cases in Wisconsin. So far in 2019, we have seen 10 sporadic hepatitis A cases.

We are asking you and your staff to work with your patients and clients to reduce the spread of hepatitis A infection. Please share the following information widely.

Who is at high risk for getting hepatitis A?

  • People who use drugs, whether injected or not (for example, cigarettes, joints, vaping products, pills).
  • People who have experienced unstable housing or homelessness.
  • People who have sexual contact with someone who has hepatitis A (for example, engaging in oral-anal sex also known as “rimming”).
  • Men who have sex with men.
  • People who have close person-to-person contact with someone who has hepatitis A (for example, those who share bathroom facilities or a cell).
  • People with chronic liver disease, including cirrhosis, hepatitis B, or hepatitis C.
  • Individuals in correctional and jail settings are at risk for becoming sick with hepatitis A due to the close living conditions which allow the virus to spread easily.

What is hepatitis A and how is it spread?

Hepatitis A is a highly contagious disease that is spread from person to person and is found in the feces (poop) of people with hepatitis A virus. Hepatitis A can be easily spread if someone does not wash their hands properly after using the bathroom.

How is hepatitis A different from other types of hepatitis?

Hepatitis A is different from hepatitis B and hepatitis C. While all three can damage the liver, they are caused by different viruses and are spread in different ways. Most often, hepatitis A is spread by eating or drinking food or water with the virus in it. In recent outbreaks, hepatitis A has been spread by sharing drugs or drug products, or having sexual contact with someone with hepatitis A.

What are the signs and symptoms?

Symptoms usually start four weeks after the individual has come in contact with the hepatitis A virus. However, they can start as early as two and as late as seven weeks after the virus enters the body. Symptoms can start quickly and can include:

  • Fever
  • Fatigue
  • Loss of appetite
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Abdominal pain
  • Dark urine (pee)
  • Diarrhea (loose stools)
  • Clay-colored stools
  • Joint pain
  • Jaundice (yellowing of the skin and eyes)

What can you do to help prevent hepatitis A infections in your facility?

  • Vaccinate all staff with hepatitis A vaccine. This is the most effective way to prevent an outbreak in your facility and community.
  • If your facility includes clients who are at high risk for getting hepatitis A, encourage them to get vaccinated.
    • Implementing a vaccine program on intake is one approach to ensure everyone is vaccinated.
    • Staff can visit their health care provider to receive the hepatitis A vaccine.
  • Encourage regular hand washing before eating. Alcohol-based hand gel does not kill the hepatitis A virus. Soap and water must be used.
  • Ensure kitchen staff is healthy and vaccinated. They can cause or further spread an outbreak if they work when they are ill.
  • Visitors and staff should not share food, drinks, utensils, or personal hygiene items.

What should you know about the hepatitis A vaccine?

The hepatitis A vaccine is safe and an effective tool for preventing the spread of disease. It is important to use the single-antigen hepatitis A vaccine when vaccinating staff.

One dose of single-antigen hepatitis A vaccine has been shown to control outbreaks of hepatitis A. It provides up to 95% protection against hepatitis A in healthy individuals for up to 11 years.

What resources are available to order from DHS?

Hepatitis A: Just the Facts (P-02401)

Wash Your Hands! (P-01710)

Hepatitis A: Protect Yourself by Getting Vaccinated flyer (P-90030)

Hepatitis A Outbreak-What Emergency Departments Can Do (P-90031)

Clean Up and Disinfect for Hepatitis A (P-90028)

Help Prevent the Spread of Hepatitis A (P-90029)