NEW ORLEANS, La. (WVUE) - A hepatitis A outbreak in Louisiana has reached the highest number of cases in 20 years..
In an average year, Louisiana has 10 to 15 cases of hepatitis A, but that number has jumped to 375 this year, according to the State Department of Health.
Dr. Frank Welch, medical director for immunization programs at Louisiana Health Department said the increase is disturbing.
“That obviously is a huge explosion. And then, when you say the past month or so, we’ve had about 100 [cases]. That’s really concerning to us and we’re working very aggressively to try to tamp that down,” Welch said.
LSU Infectious Diseases doctor Fred Lopez said the outbreak is connected with a number of risk groups, including the homeless and incarcerated populations, men who have sex with men and drug users.
“In 2017, there were only a total of seven or eight cases. So, a huge increase, and it’s being driven by risk factors that are being seen all over the united states where other outbreaks are occurring,” Lopez said.
He said the virus can be spread through contaminated food or water.
"This is a virus, very contagious virus, and anything contaminated with feces that's infected with hepatitis A when consumed, can serve as a vehicle for initiation for infection," Lopez said.
According to the Department of Health, the areas with the most cases are in Livingston and East Baton Rouge parishes, ranging from 60 to 120.
David Nolimal is a nurse in New Orleans and said he was unaware of the outbreak.
“That is a concern,” Nolimal said. “I really didn’t know about the hepatitis A outbreak happening. We have a lot of hep C that comes in and out of our hospital, but the hep A is kind of concerning, to me, and new."
However, there have been less than 20 reported cases in Orleans and surrounding parishes, according to the Department of Health -- a fact that Welch said is not by chance.
"There's outreach, medical outreach that goes and serves the homeless population within New Orleans, and every single time for the past year and two months, every time they go out they take hepatitis A vaccine with them," Welch said.
Some symptoms include fever, fatigue, jaundice and dark urine.
Health experts say the best way to protect yourself is through good hygiene and vaccinations.