BATON ROUGE, La. (WAFB) - The Louisiana Department of Health (LDH) reports that, as of Nov. 15, the state has 638 cases of hepatitis A, five of which are not linked to the current outbreak.
The largest concentration of reported cases of the vaccine-preventable illness remains in Livingston Parish, with between 121 and 240 cases.
East Baton Rouge and Ouachita parishes reported the second-highest concentration of cases, between 61 and 120.
The hepatitis A outbreak in Louisiana has reached the highest number of cases in 20 years. In an average year, Louisiana has 10 to 15 cases of hepatitis A. While the outbreak has been significant, it does appear that the number of cases week to week is starting to go down.
WHAT IS HEPATITIS A?
Hepatitis A is a highly contagious liver infection caused by the hepatitis A virus. It is a vaccine-preventable illness that is easily spread through close contact, as well as from sharing injection and non-injection drugs.
Hepatitis A usually spreads when a person unknowingly ingests the virus from objects, food or drinks contaminated by small, undetected amounts of stool (feces) from an infected person. Hepatitis A can also spread from close personal contact with an infected person such as through sex or caring for someone who is ill.
An infected person can transmit the virus to others up to two weeks before symptoms appear, and even those who do not experience symptoms can transmit the virus to others.
HEPATITIS A PREVENTION
The best way to prevent hepatitis A is through vaccination with the hepatitis A vaccine (see below for Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices [ACIP] recommendations). 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.
Practicing good hand hygiene – including thoroughly washing hands after using the bathroom, changing diapers, and before preparing or eating food – plays an important role in preventing the spread of hepatitis A.
Where can I get vaccinated? Click here for locations in Louisiana.
WHAT ARE THE SYMPTOMS OF HEPATITIS A?
Symptoms include fever, fatigue, loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, dark urine, clay-colored bowel movements, joint pain and jaundice (yellowing of the skin and eyes).
Most children younger than age 6 do not have symptoms when they have hepatitis A. If symptoms occur, they usually appear four weeks after exposure, but can occur as early as two weeks and as late as seven weeks after exposure.
Symptoms usually develop over a period of several days and last less than two months, although a small percentage of people (10-15 percent) can have symptoms for as long as six months.
Sometimes hepatitis A can cause liver failure and death, although this is rare and occurs more commonly in people older than 50 and people with other liver diseases.