WHO warns hep-A outbreak may be exacerbated by gay pride season

GENEVA: An outbreak of hepatitis A has spread over the past year among gay men in Europe, the United States and Chile, and upcoming gay pride events and a vaccine shortage could worsen the situation, the World Health Organization said on Wednesday.

The WHO said in a disease outbreak statement that any country noticing an unusual increase in cases among men who have sex with other men should report it to the WHO.

It said the rise in cases was "of particular concern from a public health perspective because of the current limited availability of hepatitis A vaccine worldwide", and most of the affected countries had routinely recommended vaccination for gay men.

The disease is rarely fatal but some patients may develop severe symptoms lasting several months. The virus is mainly spread by ingesting food or water contaminated by the faeces of an infected person, but for gay men the main risk is sexual transmission, particularly oral-anal sexual contact.

The WHO said up to 2 million international guests were expected to attend the LGBT World Pride Festival in Madrid between 23 June and 2 July, with "moderate to high" risk of person-to-person sexual transmission of hepatitis A.

"In Spain, Hepatitis A cases reported in 2017 are almost eight times higher than the average number of cases reported during the same period between the years 2012 and 2016. Most cases are men with ages between 15 to 45 years old, and MSM (men who have sex with men) are the most affected group," it said.

People attending the Madrid festival should seek advice from healthcare providers on hepatitis A vaccination before travelling, and should take preventive measures while in Madrid to reduce the risk of infection, it said.