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Hepatitis A Outbreak Declared in Minnesota for High-risk People

Minnesota health officials say there's an outbreak in cases of hepatitis A, a virus that can cause severe liver damage. Nine counties are reporting cases, including St. Louis and Pine counties.  Minnesota health officials say there's an outbreak in cases of hepatitis A, a virus that can cause severe liver damage. Nine counties are reporting cases, including St. Louis and Pine counties.  |  Photo: WDIO/MGN

Updated: August 08, 2019 09:48 AM

Minnesota health officials say there's an outbreak in cases of hepatitis A, a virus that can cause severe liver damage. Nine counties are reporting cases, including St. Louis and Pine counties. 

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According to the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH,) twenty-three cases have been identified with 13 patients requiring hospitalization for the virus. Health officials say hepatitis A is spread by unsanitary conditions, and ask for broader vaccination efforts in high-risk areas, such as jails and homeless shelters.

MDH says initial cases were clustered in east-central Minnesota and had links to each other. However more recent cases occurred in counties in other parts of the state. Health officials say the infection source is not known for some cases, suggesting some community transmission among those in high-risk groups.

“We have been working with our public health partners to respond to individual cases and prevent future cases,” said Kris Ehresmann, infectious disease director for MDH said in the release. “Declaring an outbreak is a significant step because it allows us to access additional resources to fight the outbreak.”

Ehresmann says seven other counties are reporting recent cases, including Chisago, Dakota, Hennepin, Kanabec, Kandiyohi, Mille Lacs, and Washington.

While anyone who is not vaccinated can contract hepatitis A, Ehresmann said people who are homeless or who use drugs are at higher risk, especially if they do not have access to proper sanitation.

Since the increase in hepatitis A cases in this risk group first surfaced, MDH has been working with partners who can help reach people who are at highest risk. MDH says the goal is to promote vaccination and in some cases provide vaccine directly so it is convenient and accessible. Partners include local public health departments, syringe exchange services, homeless shelters, jails and more.

MDH also has been notifying health care providers so they can be alert to test for hepatitis A if a patient has symptoms and so they can provide vaccine, if an opportunity occurs, to those at risk of infection.

In the last three years, there have been 23,000 cases of hepatitis nationally, with 233 deaths.

More information about hepatitis A symptoms and prevention can be found on the MDH website.

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