Health Department Releases Health Alert On Increase in Hepatitis A Cases Among Unvaccinated Men Who Have Sex With Men

Five non-travel related cases identified in the first two months of 2017

Vaccines are the best protection against hepatitis A

March 9, 2017 – The Health Department today released a Health Alert to notify providers of an increase in hepatitis A cases among men who have sex with men (MSM) in New York City. Five patients were identified in the first two months of 2017, none of whom had traveled internationally. The Health Department usually identifies zero to three cases of non-travel related hepatitis A among MSM per year. Three of the five patients were hospitalized; all patients have fully recovered. The patients lived in three of the five boroughs and ranged in age from 27 to 47 years. None of the patients had received vaccination for hepatitis A. National and local health authorities recommend all MSM be vaccinated.

“The increase in heptatitis A cases is concerning and we are working to prevent additional infections,” said Health Commissioner Dr. Mary T. Bassett. “Hepatitis A is an easily preventable disease and we continue to urge New Yorkers to get vaccinated. New Yorkers should ask their doctor about vaccinations, and if needed, visit our Sexual Health Clinics to receive affordable care.”   

Hepatitis A is a vaccine-preventable disease that may have severe effects, especially in adults.  Guidelines recommending two doses of the hepatitis A vaccine for MSM have existed for over two decades. Evidence suggests that vaccination could provide immunity against hepatitis A for at least 25 years. Vaccines are available at many clinics and provider offices throughout New York City. Individuals who have not been vaccinated should first consult with their health care provider. For individuals who do not have health care provider or have difficulty accessing immunization services, the City’s Sexual Health Clinics offer free and affordable hepatitis A vaccines, as well as many other sexual health services. Locations and hours can be found here.

The hepatitis A virus enters the body through ingestion of food, water, or through sexual activities that result in exposure to the stool of an infected individual. The virus can be carried on an infected person’s hands when they do not practice good hand washing, resulting in contamination of food or drink they have handled. Proper hand washing with soap can prevent transmission. Symptoms include jaundice, fatigue, abdominal pain, nausea and diarrhea. People typically develop symptoms about one month after they are exposed to the virus. Not everyone who is infected will have all of these symptoms. While some people who have chronic liver disease or a weakened immune system could experience more severe illness and require hospitalization, hepatitis A is rarely fatal. If a person thinks they may have hepatitis A, a doctor can check with a blood test. More information can be found here.

Sexual Health Clinics

This year, the Health Department announced the historic expansion of HIV and sexually transmitted infection (STI) services and the renaming of STD Clinics as Sexual Health Clinics. The expansion is part of the City’s Ending the Epidemic (ETE) plan, which includes $23 million in fiscal year 2017 and aims to reduce the number of new HIV infections in New York City to no more than 600 cases per year by 2020. The Sexual Health Clinics not only provide diagnosis and treatment for HIV and other STIs, they also provide services to prevent some STIs altogether—this includes vaccination for hepatitis A. Vaccination visits are also an important opportunity to offer screening for other STIs without having to see a clinician. Our services are fast and easy to access. Clinic services are available on a walk-in basis, six days per week, to anyone 12 years of age and above, without parental notification and without regard for ability to pay or immigration status.

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