Hepatitis A outbreak in gay and bisexual men in Europe is growing

New cases of hepatitis A cases have soared in Western Europe over the past six months as a result of an epidemic in gay and bisexual men, the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) reported last week.

ECDC says that almost 1500 cases of hepatitis A have been identified as linked, in three outbreaks, predominantly in men who have sex with men. A further 2660 cases are still being investigated and ten countries have reported an increase in cases compared with 2016. Public authorities in France, Portugal and the United Kingdom have already issued warnings about the hepatitis A outbreak to gay men, recommending that gay men get vaccinated.

Almost 800 of these cases have been reported in France. Numerous cases have also been reported in Spain, the United Kingdom, Portugal, Italy and Germany. The Spanish outbreak may be the largest; over 1800 cases have been reported in gay and bisexual men or in men aged 18-45 who haven’t been exposed to contaminated food or water. ECDC warned earlier this month that gay men planning to attend the WorldPride festival in Madrid should get vaccinated against hepatitis A. 

The outbreaks have probably not reached a peak yet, ECDC says. Delays in reporting of cases and sequencing of virus mean that surveillance figures lag two to three months behind actual diagnoses, especially in Spain and Portugal.

Hepatitis A virus is shed in faeces and can be transmitted through food or drink contaminated with faeces. Hepatitis A can also be acquired through sexual contact, especially oral-anal sex (rimming). Fingers, hands or penises that come into contact with the anus and then the mouth could also provide a route of transmission. Read more via AIDSmap