The Relationship Between Hepatitis A And the Opioid Epidemic

Hepatitis A (hep A), a type of liver infection, has been spreading around the US at an alarming rate. The infection gets its name from the titular virus, which causes inflammation of the liver. Any kind of inflammation in the liver, if left untreated, can hinder its normal functions, which leads to a host of complications. While there are a number of reasons behind the spread of Hepatitis A, many experts believe that the opioid epidemic is a leading cause.

Opioid Abuse And Hepatitis A

The spread of Hepatitis A around the country seems to be echoing the pattern of opioid abuse. Places affected most by the opioid epidemic provide ideal grounds for the infection to grow. Transmission occurs when a healthy individual somehow ingests stool from a person suffering from the infection. Because of the contagious nature, a healthy individual only needs to be exposed to microscopic amounts of contaminated waste.

Due to its means of transmission, hep A spreads quickly through communities of people where sanitation is not available or not emphasized. Homeless and prison populations are ideal for the infection to thrive, and often times areas ravaged by the opioid epidemic have larger percentages of homeless people and prisoners. Government outreach programs have begun trying to combat the spread of the infection in these populations to slow its growth across the US. While extenuating circumstances, like homelessness, increase the spread, anyone who is unvaccinated can catch hep A if exposed.

Where Has It Spread?

Kentucky has been hit hardest in these recent outbreaks with 4,800 individuals infected and more than 60 killed. Ohio is close behind over 3,220 infections and more than 15 deaths. Medical professionals expect Ohio to overtake Kentucky at its current rate of expansion. Incidences of infection exceed 1,000 in six states now and several cities have declared public health emergencies in response to rising infection rates.

As hep A progresses among the vulnerable communities, cases have begun spreading to people with no clear or identifiable risk factors. Florida recorded almost 40% of its cases from 2018 into 2019 occurred among people with no identifiable risk factors. Medical Professionals believe that aggressively vaccinating target vulnerable populations will slow down the outbreak. They also advocate for everyone living in or near areas with at risk groups to get vaccinated to minimize the distance the disease can travel outside the vulnerable populations.

The opioid epidemic follows a somewhat unique trend in that it impacts rural areas significantly. These communities often have fewer resources available to combat an outbreak of this nature. In response, the CDC has increased spending to try and mitigate further damage. In 2018 alone they spent $9.1 million on various proactive and reactive measures, which includes 150,000 federally subsidized vaccinations to be administered to at risk populations.

Notable Symptoms

Symptoms can appear between two and seven weeks after exposure to contaminated waste. The infection itself usually runs its course within two months, but about 10-15% of people could have it in their systems for up to six months. Unlike hepatitis B and C, hep A is usually the least serious and often doesn’t pose serious threats to healthy adults. It’s when the infected person doesn’t have access to medical help that it becomes serious.

  • Fever
  • Fatigue
  • Joint Pain
  • Loss of Appetite
  • Yellowing of Skin
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Abdominal Pain
  • Diarrhea
  • Dark Urine

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Michael Muldoon

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  • Michael Muldoon earned a B.A. in Media Studies from Penn State University, but instead of shifting into an academic career in social science, he has decided to put his skills to work in the pursuit of helping those struggling with addiction. He enjoys spending his free time at the climbing gym with friends.

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