London health unit warns of hepatitis a spike
The london-area health unit is warning about an outbreak of a highly contagious liver disease among the homeless and illicit drug-using population in the city after a more than five-fold increase in reported cases.
The middlesex-london health unit typically sees about three hepatitis a cases each year that are mostly travel-related.
but so far this year, the agency has encountered 16 non-travel-related hepatitis a infections, all but one of them reported since oct. 1
“This situation is a demonstration of the health inequities that exist in our city,” dr. alex summers, the area’s associate medical officer of health, said Tuesday.
“The link between most of these cases is that they (those infected) live on the margins of society, don’t have access to stable housing and struggle with addiction,” he said in a statement.
savvy travellers know that the viruses for both hepatitis a and b are commonly present in much of the developing world, with the world health organization (who) noting that hepatitis a is mainly spread through food or water contaminated by an infected person’s feces.
epidemics can erupt “explosively,” the who says.
Though such outbreaks are rarer in North america, the health unit says the actual number of cases here may be higher than what’s been reported.
“while we can provide vaccines to those who we know are at risk, there’s a much bigger issue that exists just under the surface that needs to be addressed,” summers said.
hepatitis a is a liver infection that can be prevented by vaccines. The virus can be transmitted through contaminated food and water or by close contact with an infected person. Travellers to countries where sanitation and food preparation may not be up to standards are urged to get vaccinated before they go.
many people who contract hepatitis a may not feel ill. For those who do, fatigue, nausea, abdominal pain and fever are among the main symptoms.
in some people, the infection can lead to severe illness that may last several months.
People with chronic liver diseases, including hepatitis b and C, intravenous drug users and men who have sex with men are at highest risk for the virus, the health unit says.
a post-exposure hepatitis a vaccine is also available for people who share a home with an infected person, are in a sexual relationship with an infected person or have shared illegal drugs or drug paraphernalia with an infected person.
Public health ontario has been monitoring an outbreak of the illness across the province that was first detected in 2017. The cases have been transmitted mainly by person-to-person contact, the provincial organization says.