As the number of cases increases, the Wyoming Department of Health (WDH) and the Casper-Natrona County Health Department are continuing to investigate a growing Natrona County hepatitis A outbreak that began in October.

Health officials say 14 cases have now been confirmed among Natrona County residents since October. That's a significant increase over the usual total for Wyoming, where   the previous long-term average statewide was two cases annually. The last reported local Hepatitis A infection was in 2012.

“While some of the Natrona County cases did not have a clear hepatitis A exposure risk, recent cases have been concentrated among current injection drug users,” said Clay Van Houten, Infectious Disease Epidemiology Program manager with WDH.

Health officials say hepatitis A can cause infection in the liver, and is primarily spread person-to-person through oral contact with contaminated items such as swallowing food or drink tainted with a tiny amount of infected feces. The infection typically results in symptoms in older children and adults. Those ymptoms usually occur abruptly and include fever, fatigue, loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, dark urine, clay-colored stools, joint pain and jaundice.

Van Houten says the best way to prevent hepatitis A is through vaccination. Handwashing, especially after using the bathroom, changing diapers, and before preparing or eating food, plays an important role in preventing the spread of the virus.

There may be a significant delay between the time someone who is exposed to the virus and when they show symptoms. “People recently exposed to hepatitis A who have not been vaccinated should receive a vaccine as soon as possible,” Van Houten said.  Specific risk factors for hepatitis A include:

  • Persons with direct contact with a person who has hepatitis A
  • Men who have sex with men
  • Users of injection and non-injection drugs
  • Travelers to countries with high rates of hepatitis A infection

Officials routinely recommend vaccination to prevent hepatitis A. Children aged at least 12 months and less than 24 months should receive two doses of the vaccine separated by at least 6 months and no less than 18 months. The vaccine series is also recommended for people aged 2 years or older who have not already received it.

The Casper-Natrona County Health Department offers the hepatitis A series vaccine and some people may qualify for free or discounted vaccine. For more information or to schedule a clinic appointment, you can call (307) 235-9340.

More information about hepatitis A is available online from the Centers for Disease Control and Information.