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Maricopa County reports its 1st death of statewide hepatitis A outbreak

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PHOENIX – Maricopa County has recorded its first death related to the ongoing statewide hepatitis A outbreak, authorities said Tuesday.

The death was the third in Arizona since the outbreak started in November.

“This individual was included in the populations at highest risk for hepatitis A in our Maricopa County outbreak,” Dr. Rebecca Sunenshine, county medical director for disease control, told KTAR News 92.3 FM.

“The individuals at highest risk are those who use drugs or other substances, people who are experiencing unstable housing or homelessness, and those who are or were recently in jail or prison.”

Anyone in those groups should get the hepatitis A vaccine, which is 95% effective after one dose, Sunenshine said. Vaccinations are available at the three Maricopa County Public Health Immunization clinics as well as multiple partner facilities.

“Maricopa County is working closely with all of its community and government partners to make hepatitis A vaccine available to those at highest risk, and we want to make sure that anyone who is at risk knows the importance of getting hepatitis A vaccine,” she said.

As of Tuesday, there had been 424 cases in the state and 216 in Maricopa County since the start of the outbreak, according to the Arizona Department of Health Services website.

“This is a large outbreak, but this is the first individual who has died from this outbreak in Maricopa County,” Sunenshine said.

Although rarely fatal, hepatitis A is a serious illness that can affect the liver. During the current outbreak, 80% of the patients have been hospitalized.

Symptoms include nausea, diarrhea, loss of appetite, vomiting, fatigue, fever, abdominal pain, dark-colored urine, light or whitish bowel movements and jaundice (yellowing of the skin or eyes).

“Hepatitis A is spread by not washing your hands after using the bathroom and then getting the germs into the mouth,” Sunenshine said.

“The best way to prevent it is to wash your hands after you use the bathroom, before you eat and before you prepare food.”

On July 1, the county health department issued a warning about potential exposure to hepatitis A at the Genghis Grill in Tempe Marketplace for specific dates in May and June.

Sunenshine said there haven’t been any confirmed cases related to the restaurant exposure.

KTAR News 92.3 FM’s Nailea Leon contributed to this report.

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