Update on hepatitis A in Washington
We have some good news to share. The hepatitis A outbreak from 2019 finally appears to be over. There were 465 cases of hepatitis A reported in Washington state between April 1, 2019 and September 30, 2021. Unfortunately, 263 people were hospitalized, and nine died during the outbreak. It affected 21 Washington counties, which responded with increased community outreach efforts to bolster vaccinations in the affected groups.
What is hepatitis A?
Hepatitis A is a disease caused by a virus that infects the liver. People with hepatitis A can spread it to others through infected poop. You can get hepatitis A if you put something in your mouth (food, water, hands) containing infected poop. The items may appear totally clean but may still harbor the virus. Most often, hepatitis A is spread among close contacts, like family members.
Fortunately, you can prevent hepatitis A with a very safe and effective vaccine.
Most adults, teens, and older children (over six) will get symptoms. The symptoms usually show up two to six weeks after being infected. People can spread the virus even if they don’t have any symptoms.
People who catch hepatitis A usually recover within two months, but some can remain sick for up to six months. Others get so sick they need to be hospitalized. Sometimes, hepatitis A can cause liver failure and death. Although this is rare, it happens more often in people over 50, and those with other liver diseases like hepatitis B or hepatitis C.
The populations most impacted by hepatitis A include those who are unsheltered, using drugs (injection or non-injection), and international travelers. Lack of access to clean water and toilets contributes to the spread of hepatitis A.
How to avoid hepatitis A
- Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and warm water. Proper handwashing is vital to prevent the spread of hepatitis A and many other illnesses.
- Get the hepatitis A vaccine or a combination vaccine to protect against both hepatitis A and B. These vaccines are approved for use in the United States and will not give you hepatitis.
- If you’ve been around anyone diagnosed with hepatitis A, contact your healthcare provider or local health department as soon as possible.
How to prevent the spread of hepatitis A
- The best protection against hepatitis A is the hepatitis A vaccine. If you’re not sure if you were already vaccinated, check your immunization records online through Wa.MyIR.net.
- If you haven’t had the hepatitis A vaccine and think you’re are at risk for infection or severe symptoms, contact your healthcare provider. If you don’t have a healthcare provider, call your local health department or the Family Health Hotline at 1–800–322–2588.
- If you think you were exposed to hepatitis A, call your healthcare provider or local health department for advice.
- If you get sick after a possible exposure to hepatitis A, call your healthcare provider and ask to be evaluated for hepatitis A.
- To find out if there are special recommendations for your community, contact your local health department.
- More information about the vaccine can be found here: Hepatitis A Vaccine: Reasons to Consider Vaccination (PDF) (Immunization Action Coalition).
For more information, visit our web site at Hepatitis A — Basic Information :: Washington State Department of Health.
Questions about COVID-19? Visit our COVID-19 website to learn more about vaccines and booster doses, testing, WA Notify, and more. You can also contact the Department of Health call center at 1–800–525–0127 and press # from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday, and 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday — Sunday and observed state holidays. Language assistance is available.