New Hampshire usually sees six or seven new hepatitis A cases per year, but just since November the state has identified 79 new cases.
One of those cases has even claimed the life of an adult in Merrimack County, according to the state Division of Public Health Services, which declined to provide any further information about the victim.
The outbreak appears to be increasing in severity — 33 new cases were diagnosed in March alone — and public health officials are urging Granite Staters to get vaccinated.
“The number of cases we’re currently seeing is very concerning,” said Beth Daly, chief of the state’s Bureau of Infectious Disease Control.
“What we’re seeing in this outbreak, here in New Hampshire and nationally, is that many of these individuals are people who are using recreational drugs — injectable or non-injectable drugs — and people who are homeless,” she said.
In recent years, 18 states have declared hepatitis A outbreaks and 140 deaths in the United States have been attributed to the disease, according to the Division of Public Health Services.
The infection is contagious and typically contracted when a person ingests food or liquid contaminated by undetectable amounts of hepatitis-A-positive fecal matter.
It can manifest as fever, loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, dark urine and jaundice, among other symptoms. Hepatitis A also causes liver inflammation, and, in severe cases, it can lead to liver failure resulting in death.
Anyone can contract the virus, but those most at risk include people using recreational drugs, people experiencing homelessness, gay and bi-sexual men, and people with close contact to those individuals, according to the Division of Public Health Services.
While there is no specific treatment for hepatitis A once contracted, the vaccine to prevent infection is highly effective, experts say.
Most insurers cover the vaccine and those without insurance can receive it from the Nashua Public Health Department, the Manchester Health Department, Goodwin Community Health in Somersworth, and Concord Regional VNA.