SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4 Utah) State and county health officials are so concerned about the outbreak of hepatitis A they called the news media to a conference Tuesday to plead with people to wash their hands after using the bathroom.
It could happen anywhere says Gary Edwards, the executive director of the Salt Lake County Health Department. “If somebody has hepatitis A, doesn’t wash their hands, has fecal matter on their hands, then touches anything and you touch it, you could get it.” Then he says you could unknowingly be spreading it.
The numbers are alarming. When ABC4 first reported the story in September there were 23 cases. It was an outbreak then because the state normally has only 4 cases a year.
Last week the number had gone up to 75 and Tuesday officials are reporting 87 cases.
50% of those infected are either homeless or illicit drug users or both.
“Our homeless community members do have a challenge,” says Jeff Eason, epidemiologist at the Utah Department of Health. “They have a lack of adequate facilities to wash their hands and also just to clean up. Many don’t even have a place where they could use the restroom.”
The Health Department has launched a massive immunization campaign in areas frequented by the homeless. They estimate 5,000 people have been vaccinated.
In December they will be handing out thousands of hygiene kits that include towlettes. The experts say those are better than hand sanitizer for controlling the outbreak.
Utah is one of 3 states with an outbreak. California and Michigan are the other 2.
Bottom line is that anything you touch could have been touched by someone else with Hepatitis A. A doorknob, an elevator button, a restroom door.
The Health Department has a website with videos and information for anyone who is concerned or wants more information. health.utah.gov/hepatitisa.