The first two deaths from hepatitis A in Salt Lake County have been confirmed by the Salt Lake County Health Department. According to health officials, the first person died in January and there were some doubts regarding whether the cause of their death was strictly the virus, but now it has been confirmed. The second person died from the disease in late March.
The health department said both the victims were adults and also high-risk individuals when it came to contracting the virus. Speaking on what puts one at the maximum risk of contracting the virus, the health department said it's "people experiencing homelessness, people who use illicit drugs, or people who are or have recently been incarcerated."
The Utah deaths have been linked by epidemiologists to a national outbreak that was first reported in San Diego, California, in the summer of 2017.
The Salt Lake Tribune reported that this outbreak spread steadily among the homeless population residing in the surrounding areas, including the Salt Lake and Utah counties. As of this week, 213 outbreak-associated cases have been confirmed by the Utah Department of Health. Half of these resulted in hospitalization.
"These deaths are a tragic reminder that hepatitis A is a serious disease but one that is preventable," said 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."
As per the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the first dosage of vaccination for hepatitis A provides 94 percent protection against the disease for two to five years. The second one provides 99 percent protection for 20-25 years.
Health officials also said washing hands drastically reduces the risks 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," Vitek said.
Hepatitis A is primarily a contagious disease that, as per the health department, does not result in chronic infection but is caused by a virus and can result in anything from a mild illness for few weeks to a severe one that lasts for months.
Contact with objects or food and drinks contaminated by feces from an infected person results in the spread of the disease. Its symptoms are fatigue, nausea, abdominal pain, diarrhea and jaundice (yellowing of the skin and eyes).