• NC health officials confirm first death related to hepatitis A outbreak

    By: Elsa Gillis

    Updated:

    NORTH CAROLINA - State health officials have confirmed the first death related to an ongoing hepatitis A outbreak affecting parts of North Carolina. 

    [ALSO READ: Mecklenburg Co. health officials spreading word about hepatitis A awareness]

    The North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services said the death happened in October, but did not say where in the state. No other details were released. 

    Dr. Heidi Swygard, the viral hepatitis medical director in the DHHS' Division of Public Health, said the best way to protect yourself against hepatitis A is through vaccination. 


    A highly contagious infection is spreading in Mecklenburg County and has now claimed its first death in the state. 

    At 5:30, Channel 9's Elsa Gillis talks with the public health director about the impacts of hepatitis A and how they are combating the issue in the Queen City.


    "Good handwashing is also important, especially after using the bathroom, changing diapers, and before preparing or eating food. Anyone who thinks they may have been infected or exposed should seek medical attention," Swygard said. 

     

    More than 7,000 reports of hepatitis A have been linked to a multi-state outbreak, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

    Symptoms include fever, fatigue, nausea, loss of appetite, and stomach pain.


    HEPATITIS A IN NORTH CAROLINA: 

    • On average, 41 cases of hepatitis A were reported each year in North Carolina from 2013 to 2017
    • A total of 64 cases have been reported in 2018, as of the end of October 
    • Of the 64 cases, 37 are connected with the ongoing outbreak 
    • 70 percent of the reporter 2018 cases have resulted in hospitalization 

    In June, the CDC declared a hepatitis A outbreak in Mecklenburg County and signs started to pop up around Charlotte. 

    It is a statewide problem, but Mecklenburg County has seen the most cases this year. 

    Public Health Director Gibbie Harris said since April, the county has had 21 confirmed cases tied to the outbreak. 

    [LINK: Info from Meck. Co. Health Department on Hepatitis A outbreak]

    Harris said the outbreak death in October was not from Mecklenburg County. 

    "We usually see five to six cases a year so it is more than we normally see and we have continued to see these cases continue to slowly rolling out. We had two cases in the last couple of weeks," Harris said. 

    Though North Carolina has seen much fewer cases compared to other states, Harris said that is why they've kept up a campaign to educate everyone and high risk populations through billboards and signs, dating apps, and social media. 

    "90 percent of our cases have been severe enough to be hospitalized, so the potential for death is always there," Harris said. 

    Lauren Brooks, a manager of a local restaurant, is aware of the hepatitis A outbreak. 

    "Gotta just keep on sanitizing everything, that's for sure," Brooks said. "The health department had told me, they had given me actually a form having to show everybody about the outbreak." 

    The health department does have vaccines available and they're free for at-risk populations. 

    Populations that are considered "at-risk" are the homeless population, drug users, and men who have sexual encounters with other men. 

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