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What you need to know about hepatitis A amid outbreak in Minnesota

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Last week, the Minnesota Department of Health declared an outbreak of hepatitis A in the state. Health officials across nine counties have reported nearly two dozen cases of the liver infection since May.

“I read the paper and I saw that headline, and it totally caught me off guard,” said Dr. Jon Hallberg, medical director of the University of Minnesota Physicians Mill City Clinic. “I talk about hepatitis A all the time in the clinic, but it’s pretty much in the context of people travelling to developing countries and giving them an immunization for it, and also with children. Once they turn 12, we start to talk about giving them a two-shot sequence for it. So when I see that there’s an outbreak, that surprises me.”

Hepatitis A is inflammation of the liver caused by a virus that spreads through fecal contamination, typically via food or needles.

“We think that the opioid epidemic, particularly heroin use, may be spreading it,” Hallberg told MPR News host Steven John. He said it’s more likely to spread in places where people live in close proximity, such as jails and homeless shelters.

Health officials are now doing outreach and recommending vaccines in those communities most at risk.

Click play on the audio player above for more on whether you should get immunized or may have been immunized, and for signs and symptoms of an infection.