RALEIGH, N.C. (WTVD) -- The North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services (NCDHHS) is urging people to get vaccinated against hepatitis A after seeing a sharp increase in cases this year.
Since January, 270 of the 423 cases have been reported from an ongoing outbreak that began in April 2018 -- that's 63% of the total number of cases. In total, five people have died from the virus.
The state, in particular, is targeting people who are at high risk of contracting the virus including homeless people, men who have sex with men and those who use drugs.
"Getting vaccinated is the best way to protect yourself against hepatitis A," said Dr. Erica Wilson, medical director for vaccine-preventable diseases in the NCDHHS Division of Public Health. "One dose of vaccine is highly effective, and a second dose gives lifelong immunity. We also urge everyone to continue to practice good hand hygiene and safer sex practices. Drug use also increases risk of infection, and individuals who continue to use drugs should practice harm reduction strategies and get vaccinated."
According to the NCDHHS, hepatitis is a contagious, vaccine-preventable liver infection that can range from a mild illness lasting a few weeks to severe illness lasting several months.
Hepatitis A is typically transmitted through food or water that has been contaminated with undetectable amounts of feces from a contagious person.
Symptoms from the virus include fever, fatigue, nausea, loss of appetite, stomach pain, jaundice, dark-colored urine and clay-colored bowel movements.
NC health officials warn of increase in hepatitis A outbreak