COLORADO SPRINGS – Health officials in Pueblo and El Paso Counties are working to prevent the spread of Hepatitis A, a highly contagious viral infection of the liver. A recent outbreak in our communities prompted a vaccination campaign.
According to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, roughly one in three cases of Hepatitis A cases recorded in 2018 came from El Paso County (31 statewide, 9 in El Paso County).
High-risk populations include people experiencing homelessness and/or drug users who inject heroin or meth.
People who live with, have close contact with or have sex with someone who is infected also are at a higher risk.
The Pueblo Department of Public Health and Environment held a vaccincation clinic over the weekend at the Southern Colorado Harm Reduction Association.
“We apparently broke the record and had 33 people get vaccinated this weekend,” said Judy Solano, founder and executive director of the association.
Her group operates a syringe access program in Pueblo, commonly known as a needle exchange. Solano said around 1,200 people struggling with drug addiction have come to them for help. She believes helping them get sober starts with building trust.
“We’ve developed that trust. They trust us, they know that we’re there to care for them and we are very non-judgmental,” Solano said. “We never even bring up the subject of recovery and treatment until they adderss us and that’s happening in record numbers.”
The El Paso County Department of Public Health and Environment has hosted 14 vaccination clinics at various charities that serve the homeless including Westside Cares, the Springs Rescue Mission, the Marian House Soup Kitchen, and the Salvation Army R.J. Montgomery shelter.
A total of 79 vaccines have been administered in Pueblo County, 376 in El Paso county. Solano pointed out that bringing these clinics to the homeless is critical.
“Our clients are very humble and very appreciative when resources are brought to them because they have many barriers,” she said. “Many of them can’t even get access to health care and support systems.”
In addition to vaccination, good hygene practices are encourage to prevent the spread of Hepatits A. That includes diligent handwashing after using the restroom, not sharing towels, tooth brushes or eating utensils. Abstaining from sex with someone infected with hepatitis A, not sharing food, drinks, cigarettes or drugs.
Children are routinely vaccinated against hepatitis A. However, many adults have not been vaccinated because a vaccine was not available until the mid-1990’s.