Health

Massachusetts warns of Hepatitis A outbreak among homeless, drug users

The latest outbreak is similar to one the state faced in 2018 that was responsible for more than 560 cases and at least nine deaths.

File photo of a homeless camp in Boston.
File photo of a homeless camp in Boston.
Michael Dwyer / AP
SMS

Massachusetts has issued a public health warning due to a recent outbreak of hepatitis A among homeless people and those who use illicit drugs. 

The state's department of public health said at least six cases of infection were reported between Nov. 1 and Nov. 29, including at least four individuals who had to be hospitalized.

"Several individuals reported recent homelessness/unstable housing, injection drug use, and/or other drug use, and reported recently seeking services at Boston-area clinics, shelters, and substance use treatment facilities," the agency said in a statement. "These cases have no history of travel outside of Massachusetts and there are no common sources of food, beverages or drugs identified with this cluster."

450 patients at Mass. hospital possibly exposed to HIV, hepatitis
450 patients at Mass. hospital possibly exposed to HIV, hepatitis

450 patients at Mass. hospital possibly exposed to HIV, hepatitis

Salem Hospital said the exposure happened during bad practices while administering IV medications to endoscopy patients.

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Hepatitis A is a viral infection that primarily affects the liver and is typically transmitted through contaminated food or water. But the highly contagious virus can also spread easily in areas with poor sanitation and hygiene by way of person-to-person contact or injection drug use.

Unlike some other forms of viral hepatitis, such as hepatitis B and C, hepatitis A usually does not lead to chronic liver disease, and many who contract it are able to fully recover. However, the latest outbreak in Massachusetts is similar to one the state faced in 2018 that involved more than 560 cases and at least nine deaths.

Symptoms of Hepatitis A usually occur abruptly and can include fever, fatigue, loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting and abdominal pain, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Practicing good hygiene is crucial in preventing the virus from spreading and vaccination has also proven highly effective in providing long-term immunity.