Hepatitis link investigated

North Carolina officials looking at Rainbow Family connection

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— Health officials in North Carolina are investigating whether a hepatitis outbreak in that state coul be linked to a person or people who were at the Rainbow Family of Living Light Gathering in Routt County earlier this summer.

The Asheville Citizen-Times reported four hepatitis A cases were confirmed in Buncombe County in August and that officials are investigating whether any of the people were exposed to the illness at the Rainbow gathering.

Local and state health officials in Colorado have been notified of the outbreak. A Routt County health officials said they are "keeping an eye on it," but residents or visitors should not be worried.

"Even if there was something that was spread at the Rainbow gathering, they were not preparing food locally, so there is really nothing to worry about," said Mike Zopf, Routt County's director of environmental health.

There have been no cases of hepatitis A reported in Routt County or Colorado as a result of the gathering, according to Colorado Environmental Health, which was contacted by North Carolina's health department.

"They called just to give us a heads up," said Alicia Cronquist, food borne and enteric disease coordinator. "Currently at this time Colorado Environmental Health is not conducting an investigation."

Hepatitis A is a liver disease that is present in the stool of infected people and can be spread though methods such as contaminated water, close personal contact and food preparation, Cronquist said. People can be vaccinated for the virus. Washing hands is one of the main suggested preventative measures.

Cases of hepatitis A have previously appeared in Colorado after gatherings similar in nature to the Rainbow Gathering. At this point, there is very little for Colorado Environmental Health to investigate because many of the attendees do not live in Colorado, Cronquist said.

North Carolina officials have characterized their hepatitis A outbreak as a "small outbreak in a regional sense," the Asheville newspaper reported.

One person infected with the disease worked at a restaurant in North Carolina and may have exposed more than 1,300 people to the disease between Aug. 17 and 25.

Free shots were being offered to help prevent or reduce the symptoms of the disease.

- To reach Matt Stensland, call 871-4210 or e-mail mstensland@steamboatpilot.com

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