Hepatitis Health Alert Issued

Gretchen Gallen
LOS ANGELES – The Los Angeles County Department of Health Services put out a warning Wednesday that hepatitis A is on the rise and has become a major public health concern for Los Angeles.

According to the Department of Health Services Director Jonathan E. Fielding, since August there has been an incremental rise in the number of reported hepatitis A cases.

In addition, those reported cases have increased substantially in 2005 over 2004, and while many cases have originated among the homeless community, the health department is saying that the general increase throughout the county is cause for concern.

This form of hepatitis is spread by the fecal-oral route, the department said. The virus can be transmitted by touching anything contaminated with the blood, stool, saliva and possibly other body fluids of an infected person.

Typical symptoms of hepatitis A include fever, jaundice, abdominal pain, muscle aches, or changes in the color of urine or feces. Symptoms generally appear 2-6 weeks after infection and recovery typically takes up to two months. The disease rarely has lasting effects or permanent liver damage.

“We encourage you to report these cases as soon as possible to the Los Angeles County Department of Health Services (888-397-3993) so that we may investigate the origins of the increase in hepatitis A,” the department said in a statement.

To confirm a case of acute hepatitis A, a patient must have a serological test positive for hepatitis A IgM (total hepatitis IG does not identify acute cases of hepatitis A) and must have either jaundice or elevated liver enzymes.

All healthcare providers are required to report cases of acute hepatitis A to the local health department within one working day.