10:08 AM

Hepatitis A outbreak in Arizona – are you at risk?

Since January 2019, doctors have reported more than 350 cases of hepatitis A across eight counties (Cochise, Graham, Maricopa, Mohave, Navajo, Pima, Pinal, and Yavapai), including two deaths. Since hepatitis A is very contagious, we want to share some information with you to help curb this outbreak. 

What is hepatitis A?
Hepatitis A is a virus that affects the liver. It causes the liver to become inflamed and can damage the liver. If you have hepatitis A, you might feel sick for weeks or even months. Symptoms include fever, nausea, joint pain, yellow skin, and more.

How common is hepatitis A?
Since the late 1990s, the number of cases of hepatitis A has dropped considerably. This is due, in large part, to the vaccine created in 1996 and now routinely included in childhood and travel immunization protocols. However, in recent months there has been a sharp increase in the number of people in Arizona who have the virus. Many of those infected are people who are homeless, are illegal drug users, or have recently been in prison. 

Who is at high-risk for getting hepatitis A?
Hepatitis A is contagious and can be spread in many ways to those who have not been vaccinated. One way is through contact with feces of someone who has hepatitis A. For example, you can get it from food or drinks that were contaminated by a person who has the virus. You can also get it from close personal contact with an infected person. In Arizona, people who are considered high-risk for getting hepatitis A are those who have not been vaccinated and who are:

  1. Homeless
  2. Using illegal drugs
  3. Currently incarcerated or recently released from prison

If you have not been vaccinated and you have been in close contact with a person who is considered high-risk, you are also at risk for getting hepatitis A.

How can hepatitis A be prevented?
A vaccination is the best way to prevent hepatitis A. The vaccine usually consist of two shots, given six months apart. Not everyone with the virus has symptoms. That is why it’s important to be vaccinated. Many doctors routinely vaccinate their patients for hepatitis A. But this outbreak indicates that many high-risk individuals living in Arizona have not yet been vaccinated.

Other ways to prevent the virus from spreading include washing your hands after using the bathroom or changing diapers. If possible, avoid close contact with people who are infected. Don’t share food, share illegal drugs, or have sex with them. Some member health plans require a copay, while others might have no cost for the hepatitis A vaccine. Members who are considered high-risk and who have not yet been vaccinated should ask their doctor or check with a retail pharmacy in their plan’s network about getting vaccinated as soon as possible. If you have questions, call Member Services at the number on the back of your Blue Cross Blue Shield of Arizona (BCBSAZ) member ID card.

We are also asking for your help to reduce the spread of hepatitis A in our communities. You can do this by telling your friends and family about this outbreak and how to prevent its further spread. BCBSAZ is working with community-based organizations to increase access to the vaccine. These organizations will be helping individuals who are considered high-risk, including those without healthcare coverage. Working together, we can spread the news quickly and help prevent future outbreaks.

For more information, see the hepatitis fact sheets provided by the Arizona Department of Health Services and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.