Health News

Hepatitis A cases skyrocket in Florida. Here’s how bad it is in Manatee County

The number of hepatitis A cases are soaring across the state of Florida and Manatee County has the ninth highest number of cases.

According to the Florida Department of Health, Manatee County, as of July 20, has recorded 82 cases. Pasco County ranks the highest with 355 cases. Neighboring Sarasota County has only recorded 31 cases.

In all, Florida has recorded 2,526 cases with the DOH reporting 98 percent of those cases were contracted within the state.

Cases of hepatitis A were stable for several years, but doubled over the course of 2016-17 and then doubled again in 2018. The first half of 2019 has already surpassed those 2018 numbers and 77 new cases were reported this past week.

It begs the question: Why?

According to the DOH, several common risk factors are associated with the disease to include drug use, unprotected male on male sex and homelessness.

“Individuals with any of these risk factors should receive the hepatitis A vaccine, and health care providers are encouraged to actively offer the vaccine to to individuals at work,” the DOH states. “Vaccination is the best way to prevent hepatitis A infection.”

That’s the frustrating part for health officials who say the disease is completely preventable with the vaccine.

For those infected, 72 percent of patients end up hospitalized and there have been 28 deaths recorded this year.

Fortunately, many are heeding the warning and vaccinations also are soaring in comparison to previous years. Since September 2018, 125,351 doses have been administered and from March through June of this year, vaccinations went from below a thousand a month to as high as 45,000 in May alone.

DOH reports that in more than 61 percent of known cases of hepatitis A cases since January of 2018, those infected reported engaging in known risk factors, with the most common being drug use.

Florida isn’t the only state seeing spikes, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Fifteen states have reported cases on the rise.

People most at risk include:

  • Those in direct contact with someone infected with hepatitis A.
  • Homeless or in unstable housing.
  • Injection or non-injection drug use.
  • Travelers to countries where hepatitis A is common.
  • Household members or caregivers of a recent adopted from countries where hepatitis A is common.

Symptoms of hepatitis A include:

  • Fever.
  • Fatigue.
  • Loss of appetite.
  • Vomiting.
  • Nausea.
  • Abdominal pain.
  • Dark urine.
  • Diarrhea.
  • Clay-colored bowel movements.
  • Joint pain.
  • Jaundice (yellow skin or eyes).

The vaccine and washing hands can prevent the spread. Wash before cooking or preparing food, after using the bathroom, after touching public surfaces and after eating or drinking.

For immunizations in Manatee County or for more information, call 941-748-0747 and to make an appointment for the vaccine, dial the same number and press 4.

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Breaking News/Real Time Reporter Mark Young began his career in 1996 and has been with the Bradenton Herald since 2014. He has won more than a dozen awards over the years, including the coveted Lucy Morgan Award for In-Depth Reporting from the Florida Press Club and for beat reporting from the Society for Professional Journalists to name a few. His reporting experience is as diverse as the communities he covers.
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