JACKSON • Mississippi has seen increases in cases of vaccine-preventable hepatitis A, but not in the same way as many other states.
“There are large and significant outbreaks across the United States,” state epidemiologist Dr. Paul Byars said. “In Mississippi, we haven’t seen an outbreak, but we have seen more cases.”
Mississippi historically has not seen a large number of hepatitis A cases, Byars said. Typically the state sees between one and five cases annually. However, the state had 13 confirmed cases in 2018 and already has six cases this year. There have been no secondary cases identified so far this year.
Nationally, the Centers for Disease Control reported earlier this month that the nation has seen a 300 percent increase in hepatitis A cases in the last three years, and a number of states including Florida, Georgia and South Carolina have reported ongoing outbreaks. The outbreaks around the country seem to be happening among the groups most vulnerable to hepatitis B infection: the homeless and people who use drugs.
Hepatitis A is an inflammation of the liver caused by a virus. It is highly contagious, and hospitals and clinics are required to report cases immediately to state health departments. It is spread by eating or drinking something contaminated by small, undetected amounts of stool from an infected person. It can also be spread by close contact with an infected person.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, hepatitis A can range from mild illness lasting a few weeks to severe illness lasting for months. Most people recover and do not have lasting liver damage, but it can cause liver failure and death in rare cases. People with other kinds of liver disease are at highest risk for developing complications.
Symptoms include fever, fatigue, loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, dark urine, diarrhea, clay-colored stools, joint pain and jaundice.
A vaccine against hepatitis A is recommended as a part of childhood vaccinations, but it is not required for school entry, Byars said. It is recommended for international travelers heading to areas where it is common and people who are at high risk for being exposed like the homeless, drug users, gay and bisexual men. The vaccine can also be used to help prevent the disease in people who have been exposed to the virus.
The hepatitis A vaccine is widely available. The health department also can give the vaccine to adults.