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Hepatitis A Is On The Rise In Allegheny County

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Hepatitis A is on the rise, but the Allegheny County Health Department says it could be worse.

There have been 22 cases of the disease since January 2018, the highest number in over a decade.  Hepatitis A is a highly contagious liver disease that causes inflammation. 

The Allegheny County Health Department says that, historically, there hasn’t been much local transmission of hepatitis A. But that’s changing.

“Usually these are imported cases and they are isolated incidents,” said Dr. LuAnn Brink, the department’s chief epidemiologist. “People traveling abroad to third-world countries, where sanitation isn’t what it is here, will often bring home one isolated case. But now they’re being acquired and transmitted locally.”Brink said this spike in hepatitis A isn’t a surprise.

The virus is spread through fecal-oral transmission. People can become infected by eating contaminated food, having sex or using drugs with someone with the disease, or caring for someone who is sick with hepatitis A.

Since last January, 489 cases have been reported statewide, and there are currently outbreaks in Philadelphia, Ohio and West Virginia. 

“We just felt like we were sort of triangulated, really surrounded by these cases,” she said.

Brink is cautiously optimistic about the county’s efforts to keep the disease at bay by vaccinating vulnerable populations. Drug users, men who have sex with men, people recently released from prison or jail, and the homeless population are particularly at risk for contracting the illness.

“If you consider that West Virginia has about the same population as Allegheny County, and they have over 2,000 … cases, and we’ve held it at 22 cases. We’re very happy about that,” she said.

The vaccine is a two-shot regimen that provides nearly 100 percent immunity.

Sarah Boden covers health and science for 90.5 WESA. Before coming to Pittsburgh in November 2017, she was a reporter for Iowa Public Radio where she covered a range of issues, including the 2016 Iowa Caucuses.