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Persons who use drugs and those who are experiencing homelessness are at the highest risk

SANTA FE, NM - The New Mexico Department of Health (NMDOH) has confirmed 103 acute hepatitis A virus (HAV) infections with two associated deaths in adults ranging in age from 19-64 years in Bernalillo County since the end of October 2018. An acute case of hepatitis A infection has now also been confirmed in Santa Fe County. The current outbreak has primarily impacted people who use both injection and non-injection drugs and people experiencing homelessness.

Hepatitis A is a contagious liver disease that results from infection with the hepatitis A virus. It can range in severity from a mild illness lasting a few weeks to a severe illness lasting several months. Hepatitis A is usually spread when a person ingests fecal matter, even in microscopic amounts, from contact with objects, food, or drinks contaminated by the feces or stool of an infected person.

The risk of hepatitis A infection is associated with poor sanitation and hygiene and is primarily transmitted through close contact, including sexual contact, with an infectious person or sharing of contaminated food and drink.

Hepatitis A infection typically causes fever, loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, dark urine, and yellowing of the skin and eyes. Those at increased risk for hepatitis A include:

  • Persons who use injection and non-injection drug
  • Persons experiencing homelessness or transient housing
  • Persons with direct contact with a person who has hepatitis A
  • Men who have sex with men. 

"Vaccinating people a risk of exposure is the most effective tool we have to prevent the spread of hepatitis A infection during an outbreak," said New Mexico Department of Health Secretary Kathy Kunkel.

NMDOH has provided more than 3700 hepatitis A vaccinations to the at-risk populations in Bernalillo and Santa Fe counties; and is working with community partners to increase awareness and education to help prevent the spread of hepatitis A. Handwashing with soap and water, especially after using the bathroom and before preparing food, plays an important role in preventing the spread of the virus.

Those at risk and their contacts should see their healthcare provider to obtain a hepatitis A vaccine, individuals can also be referred to their local public health office for vaccination. For Public Health Office phone numbers and locations please visit: https://nmhealth.org/location/public/.

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