The Grapevine

Minnesota Hepatitis Outbreak: What You Need To Know

Minnesota has declared a hepatitis A outbreak after health officials confirmed new cases across nine counties. Majority of the patients are drug users, homeless and previously incarcerated. 

The Minnesota Department of Health on Thursday reported 23 cases of hepatitis A. Pine County has five patients, while Hennepin, Kanabec, Mille Lacs, St. Louis and Washington counties each confirmed three cases. 

Officials from Chisago, Dakota and Kandiyohi reported one case in each county. The state's health department said it has yet to determine the main source of the infection.

Initial reports on hepatitis A in Minnesota came in May. 

"We have been working with our public health partners to respond to individual cases and prevent future cases," Kris Ehresmann, infectious disease director of Minnesota, said as quoted by the Duluth News Tribune. "Declaring an outbreak is a significant step because it allows us to access additional resources to fight the outbreak."

Hepatitis A and Facts

It is a highly contagious infection that affects the liver.  People commonly contract hepatitis A through person-to-person transmission of virus. 

The virus may get into the body by consumption of contaminated food and drinks or exposure to feces from an infected person. The risk of contracting hepatitis A can be high for people who are not vaccinated and those who use street drugs. 

Using restroom facilities with poor sanitation may also expose an individual to the virus. Hepatitis A causes a mild infection with no symptoms but if left untreated, the condition could lead to liver failure and death. 

Early diagnosis can help prevent serious health problems. Getting a vaccine is also recommended to children, frequent travelers and other people at high risk for infection. 

“Hepatitis A is a vaccine-preventable, communicable disease,” the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said. “A person can transmit the virus to others up to two weeks before symptoms appear.”

It is important to know that most children younger than age 6 commonly show no symptoms of hepatitis A when they are infected. 

The Minnesota Department of Health is currently working with local public health departments, syringe exchange services, homeless shelters, jails and other organizations to spread awareness of hepatitis A and promote vaccination. 

Hepatitis A Hepatitis A commonly spreads through ingestion of food or water contaminated with the feces of an infected person or having a direct contact with that patient. Pixabay