With 56 new cases of Hepatitis A reported statewide in the week since the last reporting period, the Florida Surgeon General declared a public health emergency on Thursday, allowing health officials to test and treat people suspected of carrying the virus.
“I am declaring this Public Health Emergency as a proactive step to appropriately alert the public to this serious illness and prevent further spread of Hepatitis A in our state,” Florida Surgeon General Dr. Scott Rivkees said. “The best way to prevent hepatitis A is through vaccination. It is important that we vaccinate as many high-risk individuals as possible in order to achieve herd immunity.”
The number of reported Hepatitis A cases in Florida in 2019 rose to 2,034 as of July 27, up from the 1,978 cases reported on July 20, the Florida Department of Health said.
The critically impacted counties are Brevard, Citrus, Glades, Hernando, Hillsborough, Lake, Liberty, Manatee, Marion, Martin, Okeechobee, Orange, Pasco, Pinellas, Sumter, Taylor, and Volusia. Most of that area is in Central and Western Florida.
Explosion of cases
The number of Hepatitis A cases in Florida has exploded in 2019, with this year’s 2,034 cases nearly four times the 548 cases reported in all of 2018, according to the Health Department. And there are five more months to be accounted for in 2019.
In 2014, just five years ago, there were only 106 cases in the state, the health department’s figures show.
Those most at risk
Groups who are most at risk, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, include:
▪ People over 60 years old
▪ People with chronic liver disease, including cirrhosis, hepatitis B, or hepatitis C
▪ People with compromised immune systems, including people with HIV or AIDS
▪ People who have unstable housing or are homeless
▪ Drug users
Symptoms can include yellowing skin, fever, diarrhea, fatigue and loss of appetite. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, hepatitis A is “usually transmitted person-to-person through the fecal-oral route or consumption of contaminated food or water.”
Florida’s outbreak coincides with a national surge in cases.
Since the Hepatitis A outbreak was first identified in 2016, there have been 22,566 reported cases in 25 states as of July 26, the CDC reports. Of those, 13,352 cases, or 59 percent, resulted in hospitalizations and 221 people died.
According to the CDC, the five states with the highest number of cases are:
Kentucky: 4,793 (As of July 13)
Ohio: 3,220 (As of July 22)
West Virginia: 2,528 (As of July 3)
Florida: 2,220 (As of June 30)
Tennessee: 2.022 (As of July 19)
“All individuals should wash their hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds,” the Florida Health Department advisory said.
Hand sanitizers do not kill the virus, the Health Department said, and private showers and restrooms should also be consistently sanitized.
In addition to hand washing, health officials urge people to get vaccinated.
One dose of single-antigen hepatitis A vaccine provides up to 95% protection in healthy individuals for up to 11 years, the CDC reports.
Who should get vaccinated
The CDC recommends the following groups should be vaccinated:
▪ All children at age 1 year
▪ Travelers to countries where hepatitis A is common
▪ Family and caregivers of adoptees from countries where hepatitis A is common
▪ Men who have sexual encounters with other men
▪ People who use injection and non-injection drugs
▪ People with chronic liver disease
▪ People with clotting-factor disorders
▪ People experiencing homelessness
▪ People who work with HAV-infected primates or with HAV in a research laboratory setting
▪ People with direct contact with others who have hepatitis A
▪ Anyone wishing to obtain immunity (protection)