Maricopa County has 320 hepatitis A cases with 4 deaths predominantly affecting those experiencing homelessness, substance use and/or recent incarceration. A few months ago, Maricopa County Public Health activated its incident command system and have had all hands on deck with not only members of the County Epi team but also contracted staff and many, many volunteers.
Selecting and Executing an Intervention
After reviewing the data and learning from other jurisdictions around the country, the team determined that the most impactful and cost-effective intervention for quelling the outbreak was to focus on a vaccination campaign among high risk folks.
Of course- that means that they would need some funding to support the intervention. Team MCDPH built a proposal and went to the County Board of Supervisors and were able get a $600K appropriation last fiscal year for the intervention. They were also able to get an additional $1.7M for the current fiscal year.
The intervention has been focusing on 3 main strategies to vaccinate those at highest risk to prevent further spread including 1) Vaccinating everyone who enters the Maricopa County jail system by hiring temporary staff; 2) Providing vaccine to partners who work with those at risk; and 3) Deploying field teams in partnership with cities to vaccinate people where they are.
AHCCCS stepped in to help as well- facilitating reimbursement to Maricopa County for the vaccinations given to Medicaid members.
By working with healthcare, community, faith-based and local government partners, the public health system has vaccinated over 14,000 residents at risk for hepatitis A. The results have been impressive. They have achieved a 66% reduction in the number of new cases since the peak of the outbreak. Vaccination efforts will continue until they can confirm that the outbreak is over.
Return on Investment
Each prevented hospitalization because of Hepatitis A saves about $25K. Emergency Department visits from Hepatitis A cost less but are still expensive- a few thousand dollars.
Persons experiencing homelessness are at much higher risk for hospitalization when they become infected with the Hepatitis A virus. For example, more than 71% of the 1,521 persons involved in a 2017 Hepatitis A outbreak were hospitalized (1,073) and 41 died.
Kentucky had a similar outbreak but they didn’t jump on it nearly as quick as Maricopa County Department of Public Health (MCDPH) and KY ended up with 4,000 cases. MCDPHs quick response likely prevented hundreds, if not thousands of cases- and untold hospitalization costs to say nothing of the lives saved. BTW- the Hepatitis A Vaccine is $36 per dose.
Partnerships are Key
There are several keys to the success of this response including doing research to determine the most effective evidence-based interventions to use, working community, government and private partners on solutions, and making a compelling case to the Board of Supervisors to invest county funds on the proposed interventions.
Well done! This is a good example of an effective and targeted response to an important public health problem that has been causing bad health outcomes among a very high-risk population- and causing expensive downstream costs for Arizona’s healthcare system.