Florida

Hepatitis A has ‘exploded’ in Florida. Here’s what you can do to protect yourself

ABCs of hepatitis: What’s the difference between A, B, and C?

Hepatitis is a disease characterized by inflammation of the liver. It comes in many forms, including hepatitis A, B and C. But what do those letter designations mean, and how do they differ from one another?
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Hepatitis is a disease characterized by inflammation of the liver. It comes in many forms, including hepatitis A, B and C. But what do those letter designations mean, and how do they differ from one another?

Florida’s hepatitis A outbreak shows no signs of easing.

In fact, the numbers are growing.

On Monday, the Florida Department of Health released its latest county-by-county report and found that the state has had 1,978 reported cases of hepatitis A this year alone through July 20.

That figure is almost as many as the total 2,526 hepatitis A cases reported in an 18-month period from Jan. 1, 2018 through July 20, 2019, according to Florida’s health department.

The rise of the virus, which can cause liver damage, started to pick up a pace when the number of reported cases doubled from 2106 to 2017 and then nearly doubled again in 2018, after remaining relatively stable in previous years, according to the department.

“Case counts in 2019 in [the first seven months of] 2019 have already surpassed those in 2018,” the department said on its website. Nearly all of the reported cases — 98% — were likely acquired locally in Florida, the department said in its report.

Tuesday, The News Service of Florida reported the incidents of hepatitis A “exploded this year in parts of the state, such as in the Tampa Bay region and areas of Central Florida.”

Reported hepatitis A cases

Indeed, Pasco County reported 355 cases, the highest number in the state, from Jan. 1 to Saturday. Pinellas County was second with 323 reported cases.

Volusia was third with 174 cases. Orange County was fourth with 140 and Hillsborough rounded out the Top 5 with 114 cases.

Miami-Dade reported 25, Broward had 12 and Palm Beach noted 40 cases of hepatitis A. Monroe County, which includes the Florida Keys, had no reported cases.

Other parts of the state, like rural counties across North Florida, have seen few cases, according to the health department.

For instance, in addition to Monroe, there were no cases of reported hepatitis A in counties such as Baker, Bradford, Calhoun, Dixie, Gadsden, Gulf, Highlands, Holmes, Jefferson, Lafayette and Suwannee.

Hepatitis A is a reportable disease in Florida and case counts include confirmed and probable cases, the health department said. The report’s case data figures are preliminary and can change as the department gathers new information.

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.”

The CDC says that hepatitis A does not result in chronic infection.

Hepatitis A symptoms

hepatitis-liver-generic-art-.jpg
Hepatitis A attacks the liver and can cause serious health issues. It is a preventable disease with vaccines. magicmine Getty Images/iStockphoto

According to the CDC, most adults will have symptoms that can include fatigue, low appetite, stomach pain, nausea, and jaundice.

These symptoms usually get better within two months of infection.

Most children less than 6 years of age do not have symptoms or have an unrecognized infection.

“Antibodies produced in response to hepatitis A infection last for life and protect against reinfection,” the CDC says.

How to prevent hepatitis A

This is why both the CDC and Florida Department of Health say that vaccination is the best way to prevent a hepatitis A infection.

Since October 2018, the number of first doses of hepatitis A vaccine administered by both private providers and county health department to adults 18 and older remained above the previous five-year average, when looking at Florida SHOTS data.

In the most recent week, July 14-20, 5,172 doses were administered, the health department said.

The best way to prevent hepatitis A infection is to get vaccinated.

Practicing good hand hygiene is another measure to help protect against hepatitis A. Wash your hands thoroughly, in hot water with soap, after using the bathroom, changing diapers, and before preparing or eating food.

These measures play “an important role in preventing the spread of hepatitis A,” the CDC says.

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Miami Herald Real Time/Breaking News reporter Howard Cohen, a 2017 Media Excellence Awards winner, has covered pop music, theater, health and fitness, obituaries, municipal government and general assignment. He started his career in the Features department at the Miami Herald in 1991.
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