King County public-health officials are urging vigilance after a local man who was living on the streets was diagnosed with the highly contagious hepatitis A virus.
The man, who is in his 40s, was hospitalized following a contagious period that lasted from March 25 to April 16. Public Health – Seattle and King County officials are providing vaccinations to people at homeless shelters, day centers, meal services and unsanctioned camps where the man was known to spend time, as well as cleaning assistance.
“This is a reminder of the importance of taking steps to ensure vaccination to prevent hepatitis A from spreading in our community. This is critical for people at high-risk, including those who are homeless, using illicit drugs, men who have sex with men, people who travel internationally, and anyone who may be exposed to someone with hepatitis A,” said Dr. Jeff Duchin, health officer for Public Health – Seattle and King County.
“We will be tracking this situation very closely along with our local health-care providers in order to detect any future cases that may indicate ongoing transmission.”
While hepatitis A is rare, people who are homeless and people who use illicit drugs are at greater risk of infection, which can cause severe liver damage.
The disease spreads through person-to-person contact. Cities with large homeless populations, including Seattle, have feared an outbreak of hepatitis A, which was responsible for 20 deaths in San Diego in 2017 and 2018, nearly all of them homeless people.
There were 14 cases of hepatitis A reported in King County in 2018, and eight cases reported so far this year. None of the previous local cases were in people living homeless.
Earlier this year, the county board of health passed a resolution urging more sanitation and hygiene services for unsheltered homeless people, and issued an advisory warning about outbreaks of several contagious diseases, including shigella, a highly contagious diarrheal illness, and Bartonella quintana, an infection that can result in fevers and rashes or more serious infections of the heart or blood vessels.