BATON ROUGE, La. (WAFB) - At least 281 Louisianans have been diagnosed with hepatitis A in the last 18 months, according to Louisiana Department of Health (LDH) records.
Between 31 and 45 cases have been reported in East Baton Rouge Parish alone. Livingston Parish has the highest concentration in the state, with between 61 and 75 reported cases.
“In the past two to three weeks, we’ve seen an increase in the rate of new infections. That gives us worry that our outbreak might be growing or entering a new phase,” said LDH Assistant State Health Officer Dr. Joseph Kanter.
Before the outbreak began in January of 2018, the state averaged between 5 and 15 cases each year. Kanter says 2019’s bout is “concerning” because around 60% of patients have been hospitalized.
Hepatitis A is preventable with a vaccine, which provides 95% coverage for at least ten years. Most children born after 2006 were vaccinated soon after birth.
Drug users, prisoners, homeless people, and men who have sex with other men are especially susceptible. LDH says it’s “aggressively targeting” at-risk populations by coordinating vaccination dates with homeless shelters and rehab facilities.
The virus is primarily transmitted through close contact with others. It lives in fecal matter that can be accidentally ingested through contact with the face.
“People outside the at-risk population don’t need to do anything major other than continue to practice good hygiene,” Kanter said, recommending frequent hand-washing.
He says most people do not need to be vaccinated unless they’ve come into close contact with an infected person. If you’re unsure, talk to your primary care physician.
“Our epidemic is smaller than other states and we’re thankful for that,” he said.
As the virus spreads, there are reported cases involving people who are not in the at-risk population. Amy Maggio contracted hepatitis A by eating contaminated food sometime in May.
She was hospitalized and fighting for her life with 3% of a functioning liver before a transplant arrived.
“I’m healthy. I run. I never thought it’d be hepatitis A,” she said, adding that she thought she had the flu.
LDH has not identified any restaurants or commercial food sources that have a hepatitis A problem, but disease investigators are coordinating with each patient to cross-reference data.
“Should this epidemic become something else, you will hear from us with new instructions,” Kanter said.