Hepatitis A outbreak turns deadly in Salt Lake County

Apr 3, 2018, 6:10 PM | Updated: 9:50 pm

SALT LAKE CITY —  The ongoing Hepatitis A outbreak has claimed its first two lives in Utah. The Salt Lake County Health Department reported the deaths Tuesday.

Since last May, more than 200 people have been sickened statewide from the ongoing outbreak.

“It’s really sad that we have to report that people are dying because it’s a vaccine-preventable disease,” said Dr. Dagmar Vitek, medical director for the county health department. “Right now, the outbreak is impacting the high-risk population: the homeless, people who are using illicit drugs, and the incarcerated population.”

The first death happened in January. But, the health department did not get that death confirmation until Tuesday. The second hepatitis death occurred in late March. Both were adults. For privacy reasons, the health department cannot release their names.

The county has never seen a Hepatitis A outbreak like this, Dr. Vitek said. But, neither of those deaths presents a risk to the broader population.

“We’ve mounted an enormous vaccination campaign,” said Dr. Vitek.

The Salt Lake County Health Department and the state health department have been on the offensive with this outbreak since last August, administering more than 9,000 vaccines within that high-risk population. Health care workers are taking the vaccines and hygiene kits to shelters and homeless encampments throughout the county.

“They have been responsive. I would say the majority are,” said Terry Begay, Salt Lake County Health Department Medical Surge Director. She is a former cop, now a social worker, battling the hepatitis A outbreak on the streets.

“Usually, we have them come to us, to the clinics, she said. “This time we’ve had to go out to them.”

As medical surge director, she visits the shelters and homeless camps down by the Jordan River and in the foothills above the University of Utah. She vaccinates those who are willing and hands out hygiene kits.

“They’ve been very thankful for the most part,” Begay said. “It touches my heart.”

Begay has worked with the homeless before and she chokes back tears as she talks about her work, along with many other community partners, to turn back the tide of Hepatitis A.

“I feel like I’m really making a difference,” she said. “I feel like the health department is making a difference.”

Salt Lake County has recorded 148 cases of hepatitis A since the outbreak began last May. There have been 212 cases statewide.

“It was to be expected,” Dr. Vitek said of the deaths, “But, I’m really happy to say that because of all of these public health efforts we have a lower hospitalization rate and lower mortality rate than other states.”

Dr. Vitek said it’s still difficult to tell whether the outbreak has peaked because the incubation period for hepatitis A is up to 50 days.

“It looks like maybe it has peaked already and we are on the downward slope,” she said.

But, they are a long way from that declaration, as the community outreach expands.

“We can go out and touch that part of the community and let them know that we do care,” said Begay.

KSL 5 TV Live

Top Stories


(File) Intermountain Healthcare Faculty in Murray....
Michael Houck

Intermountain Healthcare to rename to Intermountain Health

Intermountain Healthcare will rebrand to Intermountain Health in 2023 to reflect the values of the healthcare provider.
1 day ago
Domestic violence organizations saw a significant increase in request for shelter during the pandem...
Ashley Moser

Advocates encourage victims, perpetrators to seek help as domestic violence increases

Domestic violence organizations saw a significant increase in requests for shelter during the pandemic.
2 days ago
CHICAGO, ILLINOIS - SEPTEMBER 09: A pharmacist prepares to administer  COVID-19 vaccine booster sho...
Jed Boal

University Health recommends getting omicron booster and flu shot now

The CDC approved the COVID-19 bivalent boosters that target the most recent omicron variants on September 1. Since then, tens of thousands of Utahns have rolled up their sleeves.
2 days ago
Fentanyl (USCO)...
Jacqueline Howard, CNN

What is rainbow fentanyl? Colorful pills drive new warnings about deadliest drug in the US

Rainbow Fentanyl warnings released by DEA to inform people of the deadly drug made to look like candy as Halloween quickly approaches.
3 days ago
A group of students touring Alta View Hospital in Sandy. (Mark Less)...
Alex Cabrero

Black Physicians of Utah host Medicine Immersion Day

A local organization is encouraging Utah's Black youth to consider a career field in health and medicine to diversify the medical field.
4 days ago
Utah Capitol in Salt Lake City is pictured on Sunday, Sept. 11, 2022. (Scott G Winterton, Deseret N...
Michael Houck

Abortion providers are undeterred after receiving Republican signed cease-and-desist letters

Physicians and abortion providers say the Utah GOP group’s cease-and-desist letter has no real legal standing.
7 days ago

Sponsored Articles

young woman with stickers on laptop computer...
Les Olson

7 ways print marketing materials can boost your business

Custom print marketing materials are a great way to leave an impression on clients or customers. Read for a few ideas to spread the word about your product or company.
young woman throwing clothes to organize a walk in closet...
Lighting Design

How to organize your walk-in closet | 7 easy tips to streamline your storage today

Read our tips to learn how to organize your walk-in closet for more storage space. These seven easy tips can help you get the most out of your space.
Types of Computer Malware and Examples...
PC Laptops

5 Nasty Types of Computer Malware and Examples | Everything You Need to Know to Keep Your Computer and Family Safe

Here are the different types of computer malware and examples that could potentially infect your computer.
tips how to quit smoking...

7 Tips How to Quit Smoking | Quitting Smoking Might be One of the Hardest Things You Ever Do but Here’s Where You Can Start

Quitting smoking cigarettes can be incredibly difficult. Here are 7 tips how to quit smoking to help you on your quitting journey.
Photo: Storyblocks...
Blue Stakes of Utah 811

Blue Stakes of Utah 811: 5 Reasons To Call 811 Before You Dig When Working in Your Yard

Call before you dig. Even at home, you could end up with serious injuries or broken utilities just because you didn't call Blue Stakes of Utah 811.
Days of...
Days of '47 Rodeo

TRIVIA: How well do you know your rodeo? Take this quiz before you go to the Days of ’47!

The Utah Days of ’47 Rodeo presented by Zions Bank is a one-of-a-kind Gold Medal Rodeo being held July 20-23, 25 at 7:30 PM. The Days of ’47 Rodeo How well do you know your rodeo trivia? Take the quiz to test your know-all before heading out to the Days of ’47 Rodeo at the […]
Hepatitis A outbreak turns deadly in Salt Lake County