A La Plata County homeless resident has contracted hepatitis A, the first local case in a statewide outbreak, according to San Juan Basin Public Health.
Statewide, the disease has sickened 308 people since October 2018, according to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. Only two cases have been confirmed in Southwest Colorado, including the one in La Plata County and one in Montezuma County.
Hepatitis A is a highly contagious virus that infects the liver and can cause liver disease lasting a few weeks or a serious illness lasting months, according to a health department news release.
In rare cases, it can cause death. Two people in Colorado have died from the disease, according to the state health department.
The case was detected in the first week of December. Since then, San Juan Basin Public Health has conducted an extensive investigation to identify any other people who may have been exposed to hepatitis A in the local community, a news release said.
The agency is providing free hepatitis A vaccines to those who had contact with the infected person.
The health department is also offering free hepatitis A vaccine clinics for populations at high risk of exposure and has conducted outreach to those populations.
Over a two day period this week, the agency provided over 150 vaccines to individuals who are at high risk for hepatitis A, health department spokeswoman Claire Ninde said.
“This is an ongoing effort, and vaccine clinics will also be planned in the future,” she said.
Hepatitis A usually spreads when a person unknowingly ingests the virus from objects, food or drinks that are contaminated by undetected amounts of feces from an infected person. It can also spread through contact with an infected person through sex or sharing drugs or drug equipment with someone who may be ill. Those caring for someone with the virus can also contract it, according to San Juan Basin Public Health.
The disease has been spreading among people who are homeless, residents abusing substances and those who are or have been in city and county jails. Some cases have also been reported among men who have sex with men, according to the state health department.
People affected by this outbreak generally have poorer nutrition, live in crowded conditions and have less access to preventive health care. The risk to other populations is low, a news release said.
People who have general questions about hepatitis A can call CO-Help at (303) 389-1687 or (877) 462-2911, or email COHELP@RMPDC.org, for answers in English and Spanish.