SALT LAKE CITY — Intermountain Healthcare has donated nearly a quarter of a million dollars to the Utah Department of Health to help purchase almost 9,000 hepatitis A vaccine doses to administer as the state fights an outbreak of the virus.
Since May, 110 outbreak-related cases of hepatitis A have been reported in the state, said Utah Health Department spokesman Tom Hudachko.
That includes 23 new cases since Nov. 28, when Salt Lake County and state health officials held a press conference to warn that members of the general public could also be at increasing risk of infection despite the illness' concentration mostly among those who are homeless, using recreational drugs or are incarcerated.
The $248,000 donation from Intermountain will go a long way to help the state directly protect people from getting infected, said Dr. Joseph Miner, executive director of the Utah Department of Health.
“The state is extraordinarily lucky to have a partner like Intermountain Healthcare that is willing to step in and contribute to this effort,” Miner said in a statement, adding that "keeping a community healthy requires a community effort."
Mikelle Moore, senior vice president of community health at Intermountain Healthcare, said the organization feels it has a stake in "working to improve the health of underserved populations."
“By providing preventive care to those most at risk of getting sick, before there is a problem, Intermountain can help people live the healthiest lives possible,” Moore said in a statement.
Utah Department of Health epidemiologist Jeff Eason said late last month that 7,000 vaccine kits had already been distributed to public health workers in a push to protect especially at-risk populations.
In recent months in Salt Lake County, officials said, workers have given vaccines in several places where there are high concentrations of homeless people, including shelters, places near the Jordan River, treatment centers and Pioneer Park.
Gary Edwards, executive director of the Salt Lake County Health Department, said the immunizations are a critical and highly successful tool in warding off hepatitis A.
“Hepatitis A is one of the few foodborne illnesses that can be prevented through vaccination,” Edwards said in a statement. “We are working hard to keep this outbreak from spreading to the general population, and vaccination is a critical part of our efforts.”
Another way for a person to prevent getting hepatitis A is to wash their hands thoroughly before eating or making food and after using the restroom, health experts say.
Utah is one of three states to have experienced a significant hepatitis A outbreak in 2017. In the San Diego area, 674 cases had been reported as of Dec. 11, 21 of which were fatal, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Around Detroit, 610 cases have been reported this year, resulting in 20 deaths, according to that federal agency.
No deaths have so far been reported in connection with the hepatitis A outbreak in Utah.