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Two dead in Salt Lake County from hepatitis A outbreak

Hepatitis A prevention kits prepared and distributed by the Salt Lake County Health Department amid an ongoing outbreak. Each kit contains hygiene items. (Photo: Jed Boal, KSL TV)

SALT LAKE CITY — The Salt Lake County Health Department has confirmed two deaths connected to an ongoing outbreak of hepatitis A.

The first death occurred in January, while the second happened in late March. A statement from the health department explains additional tests were needed to determine a cause of death in the first case, due to other health conditions.

Health department staff have identified the two individuals as adults, but said medical privacy laws prevent them from publicly identifying them.

“Right now, the outbreak is impacting the high-risk population,” said Dr. Dagmar Vitek, the county’s medical director. “The homeless, the people who are using illicit drugs, and the incarcerated population.”

Both of these fatal victims were included in that population. They were not restaurant workers connected with a hepatitis A scare tied to restaurants in Utah County last winter.

Hepatitis A is a liver disease caused by a virus. It does not typically lead to chronic infection and symptoms can range from mild illness to a months-long sickness involving nausea, abdominal pain, diarrhea, jaundice and fatigue.

A two-dose hepatitis A vaccine is available and effective, offering lifetime protection. Public health experts also suggest preventative measures like frequent hand washing, especially before preparing food or after using the restroom or changing diapers.

“People are eating in restaurants, they are travelling all over the world,” Dr. Vitek said. “So basically, the best prevention is, get vaccinated and wash your hands often. It’s as simple as that.”

Salt Lake County medical director Dr. Dagmar Vitek discusses two deaths connected to a hepatitis A outbreak on April 3, 2018. (Photo: Peter Samore, KSL Newsradio)

A national outbreak of hepatitis A started in San Diego, California and spread to Utah during the summer of 2017. The Salt Lake County Health Department said it has identified 148 cases related to the outbreak so far, making up more than half of the 212 cases reported statewide. The health department continues to distribute hygiene kits and conduct vaccination clinics to combat the outbreak.