Nationwide hepatitis A outbreak has killed two people in Colorado

Dr. Seth Foldy, a Denver Health and Hospital Authority public health specialist, speaks at a news conference July 22 next to the banners that will be seen around Denver indicating where people considered at special risk of contracting hepatitis A can get a free vaccine. (Donna Bryson/Denverite)

Dr. Seth Foldy, a Denver Health and Hospital Authority public health specialist, speaks at a news conference July 22 next to the banners that will be seen around Denver indicating where people considered at special risk of contracting hepatitis A can get a free vaccine. (Donna Bryson/Denverite)

Donna Bryson. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

A second Coloradan has died in a nationwide hepatitis A outbreak.

Shannon Barbare, a spokeswoman for the state health department, said Friday that the person died in Arapahoe  County in September of the highly contagious but rarely fatal liver disease.

An earlier death in Denver that also occurred in September had been previously reported.

The nationwide outbreak started in California in 2016 and so far more than 28,000 cases have been reported in 30 states, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Nationwide, the outbreak has claimed more than 280 lives, making it unusually deadly.

The disease was first detected in southern Colorado earlier this year and has now hit 15 counties. Most of the 299 Colorado’s cases so far have been in El Paso County.

Washing hands with soap and water after using the bathroom can help combat a disease that is generally spread from the feces of an infected person via food or drink. People experiencing homelessness struggle to find clean bathrooms and have contracted the disease in large numbers during this outbreak.

In a statement Friday, the state health department said that in addition to those experiencing homelessness or housing instability, people considered at high risk of contracting hepatitis A included people with substance use issues and who are incarcerated.

“Some recently reported hepatitis A cases also have occurred in men who report having sexual contact with men,” the department added. “Close contacts of people with these risk factors also are affected. Other people, without these risk factors, are at low risk in this outbreak.”

Across the country, health officials have responded with vaccination drives and attempts to ensure people living on the streets have access to bathrooms and places to wash their hands with soap and water.

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