After more than 2,000 cases of hepatitis A in the first seven months of 2019 — more cases than Florida has seen in the past seven years combined — the state has issued a public health emergency, calling it a “proactive step to appropriately alert the public to this serious illness and prevent further spread.”
The announcement comes two months after Florida Politics first reported the wild spread of the liver disease — and the relatively few numbers of public notices that were sent out. But as the frequency of confirmed cases continues to grow, the state has become more proactive on educational and immunization efforts.
A news alert from Florida Surgeon General Dr. Scott Rivkees indicated Florida’s problems were part of a national issue, but the state’s problems are largely contained to a handful of counties.
Pasco and Pinellas counties have reported the most number of confirmed cases of hepatitis A in the state between Jan. 1 and July 27 — 358 and 328, respectively — while much more-populous counties such as Broward and Miami-Dade have had only 39 combined.
Orange, Hillsborough, and Volusia counties round out the state’s top-5. Hernando and Pasco have the highest per capita rates of confirmed hepatitis A cases.
After Florida Politics’ initial reporting, Florida Lt. Gov. Jeanette Nuñez helped amplify the state’s preventive measures, including more free vaccine access and greater outreach to at-risk communities. WUSF reports health officials are currently visiting the homeless to offer free vaccines.
The hepatitis A virus is typically spread through fecal-to-oral contact; the most at-risk populations include the homeless, county jail inmates, and gay men.
Experts recommend all food service workers get vaccines for the virus, which infects the liver and causes inflammation. All individuals should also alert their doctors if they experience flu-like symptoms, which could be signs of hepatitis A infection.
You can read more about the state’s hepatitis A prevention and eradication efforts at floridahealth.gov/HepA.