Utah hepatitis A outbreak kills two; first deaths from virus in Salt Lake County

SALT LAKE COUNTY, Utah - The Salt Lake County Health Department has confirmed the first two deaths in Salt Lake County from the hepatitis A outbreak.

Health officials said the first person died in January; officials were waiting on tests to confirm they died from the virus.

The second person died from hepatitis in late March.

According to the health department, both victims were adults who health officials said were high-risk for contracting the virus.

"People experiencing homelessness, people who use illicit drugs, or people who are or have recently been incarcerated," the health department said.

“These deaths are a tragic reminder that hepatitis A is a serious disease but one that is preventable,” the Salt Lake County Health Department’s Medical Director, Dr. Dagmar Vitek. “Vaccination is the best way to prevent infection, and the vaccine is widely available from health care providers, pharmacies, and Salt Lake County immunization clinics.”

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports the first dose provides 94-percent protection against hepatitis A for 2 to 5 years and the second dose provides 99-percent protection for 20 to 25 years.

Vaccine appointments are available at Salt Lake County immunization clinics by calling (385) 468-SHOT.

Health officials said washing your hands dramatically reduces your risk of contracting or spreading the virus.

“Food handlers must be especially vigilant about hand washing, and we encourage restaurant workers to consider receiving the vaccine to protect both themselves and their customers,” Dr. Vitek said.

The Salt Lake County Health Department has identified 148 cases of hepatitis A related to this outbreak, while the entire state of Utah has seen 212 cases to date since the August 2017 outbreak. The State Health Department’s data shows since 2010 Utah has ten or fewer cases of hepatitis A.

Epidemiologists have linked the Utah outbreak, which began in the summer of 2017, to a national outbreak first reported in San Diego, California.

Hepatitis A is a contagious liver disease that (unlike other forms of hepatitis) does not usually result in chronic infection, according to the health department.

It is caused by a virus and can range in severity from a mild illness lasting a few weeks to a severe illness lasting several months.

Hepatitis A is usually spread when a person ingests the virus from contact with objects, or food and drinks contaminated by feces from an infected person.

Symptoms of infection include fatigue, nausea, abdominal pain, diarrhea and jaundice (yellowing of the skin and eyes).

Click here for complete information from the Salt Lake County Health Department.