One death, 35 confirmed cases in hepatitis A outbreak in Yakima County

Hepatitis A

YAKIMA, Wash. —The Yakima Health District reported Wednesday that Yakima County has now seen its first death in connection with a hepatitis A outbreak that began last fall.

Since the outbreak began, health officials said they’ve seen 35 confirmed cases of hepatitis A countywide, with the majority involving individuals who are homeless or who engage in drug use.

In that time, health officials have partnered with local organizations that work with the populations most at risk for exposure to distribute more than 400 vaccinations.

“There’s no reason to be alarmed at this point in time,” Director of Public Health Partnerships Lillian Bravo said, adding that just two of the 35 cases involved people who did not fit into either category.

The Yakima Health District is advising everyone, regardless of whether they may be at-risk, to make sure their vaccinations are up to date and they are washing their hands thoroughly.

The first case of hepatitis A in Yakima County was reported Oct. 24, 2019; after three more confirmed cases, the health district activated emergency operations Nov. 5, 2019. 

The next day, a fifth case of hepatitis A was reported, this one with a potential exposure at Popeye’s Louisiana Kitchen in Yakima. Six days after that, the number of reported cases had more than doubled.

Bravo said Yakima County hasn’t seen a hepatitis A outbreak this large in recent history. However, she said health officials at the state level and nationwide have been seeing the number of hepatitis A outbreaks rise over the past few years.

Last summer, the Washington State Department of Health announced a multi-county hepatitis A outbreak. From April 1, 2019 to Jan. 30, 2020, more than 200 cases of Hepatitis A had been reported statewide, resulting in 119 hospitalizations and four deaths.

“Through genetic testing, it was found that the Yakima County hepatitis A strain that is being observed is related to the hepatitis A outbreak in Spokane,” state health officials said.

Nationally, since the first outbreak was reported in 2016, more than 30 states have reported cases of hepatitis A rising to the level of an outbreak: a total of about 30,000 confirmed cases, 18,000 hospitalizations and 300 deaths.