LAS VEGAS (KLAS) — The Southern Nevada Health District has confirmed a significant increase in the number of acute hepatitis A cases in Clark County. Between Jan. 1 and May 31, there have been 37 reported acute hepatitis A cases, compared to 17 reported cases in 2018, no reported case in 2017, and six reported cases in 2016 during the same period.

“We’ve never had this sort of outbreak in Southern Nevada,” said Dr. Vit Kraushaar, medical investigator for the Southern Nevada Health District. “We’re not trying to be alarmists but we are trying to sort of tackle this problem aggressively early on.”

Nevada is not the only state dealing with increase of people affected by hepatitis A. The Centers for Disease Control reports 22 states confirming nearly 20,000 cases of the virus, so far this year and nearly 200 deaths. The Southern Nevada Health District is not disclosing if anyone has died here — but there are more hospitalizations from this virus.

People who are at increased risk for infection of hepatitis A include people who use drugs and those experiencing homelessness.

“It’s not the drug use itself that’s causing these hepatitis A transmission; it just mainly has to do with hygiene and ways people are living,” Kraushaar said.

“This current outbreak of hepatitis A in our community is an unfortunate but important reminder of why vaccines are vital to both our individual and community health,” said Dr. Joe Iser, Chief Health Officer of the Southern Nevada Health District.

Of the 37 reported cases, 86 percent were people who used drugs, and 65 percent were among people experiencing homelessness.

Vaccination is the best prevention against hepatitis A. Practicing good hygiene can also help prevent the transmission of hepatitis A.

Wash hands thoroughly after using the bathroom, changing diapers, and before preparing or eating food.

“So somebody goes to the bathroom, they don’t wash their hands very well, they either– they’re handling food or they’re touching; they shake hands with someone, someone else touches their mouth, they can transmit it that way,” said Kraushaar.

“Unfortunately I predicted something like this would be happening,” said Merideth Spriggs, chief kindness officer of Caridad.

Meredith Spriggs works at Caridad, a homeless outreach agency. She said she noticed this becoming a potential issue.

“I did reach out over a year ago and I tried to sound the alarm that this was going to happen,” Spriggs said.

Spriggs says there’s a lack of public bathrooms and handwashing stations for the homeless. She now worries about the potential impact of this outbreak.

“My biggest fear for the city and this community in Southern Nevada is that it will spread into the indoor population and hurt our businesses,” Spriggs saidl

A similar situation that happened a few years ago in San Diego. But, she and the health district encourage proper hygiene and vaccinations as prevention measures.

More information on hepatitis A is available on the Health District website. For up to date information on the nationwide Hepatitis A outbreak visit the CDC website.

The Health District is responding to this current outbreak in Clark County using information from recent cases to identify and notify hospitals that have treated an increased number of hepatitis cases; identifying further locations to target vaccinations; continuing its outreach and immunization efforts with its partners; and working with its health care partners to share information and recommendations about the outbreak.