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Dep’t of Health: Hepatitis A outbreak approaches 3,400 cases

The update spans the year up to Dec. 28.

State health officials counted nearly 3,400 hepatitis A cases last year, according to the latest data from the Florida Department of Health (FDOH).

The department reported 63 cases in the week ahead of Saturday, bringing the year’s total to 3,395. Given the trend, the year’s number of reported incidents could top 3,400 after adding the remaining three days of December.

The hepatitis A virus commonly spreads through fecal matter ingested from food and water contaminated by an infected person’s feces. The virus afflicts the liver and causes symptoms, including fatigue, vomiting and diarrhea, which usually start two to six weeks after infection.

FDOH recommends washing hands with soap and warm water to stop the disease’s spread. Alcohol-based hand sanitizers do not kill the hepatitis A virus.

Last year’s reported hepatitis A case total shrouds 2018’s 548 cases, which itself nearly doubled the 276 cases from 2017.

In May, the monthly case total peaked at 383 and trended downward over the rest of the year. But December saw at least 24 more cases than November, a jump from 202 to 226.

In August, Surgeon General Scott Rivkees issued a public health emergency to combat hepatitis A’s spread. And the following month, he briefed the Senate on the national outbreak’s extent in Florida.

“This has had a serious impact on the state of Florida,” Rivkees said. “Nearly every county in Florida has been affected by a case of Hepatitis A.”

At least 58 of the state’s 67 counties have seen hepatitis A. The infection rate is highest in Central Florida.

The department recommends hepatitis A vaccinations for people who are homeless, use recreational drugs, are 60 years old or older, or have chronic liver disease, among others. People who want protection from the virus may also receive the vaccine.

Local FDOH offices and public health partners provided more than 130,000 vaccines according to a year-end statement.

Pasco County saw the most cases with 414, followed by Pinellas County at 377. Volusia, Orange, Brevard, and Hillsborough counties rounded out the top 5 with 310, 196, 168, and 167 cases, respectively.

Nationwide, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has reported 29,330 cases through Dec. 20 since 2016.

Written By

Renzo Downey covers the Florida Legislature for Florida Politics. After graduating from Northwestern University in 2019, Renzo began his reporting career in the Lone Star State, covering state government for the Austin American-Statesman. Shoot Renzo an email at renzo@floridapolitics.com and follow him on Twitter @RenzoDowney.

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