THE ISSUE: Hepatitis A outbreak in Florida.
OUR OPINION: Get vaccinated now.
If you can’t remember if you’ve been vaccinated for hepatitis A, double check your paperwork. And if you know you haven’t, then consider getting vaccinated soon.
Cases of the highly contagious virus that can cause sudden liver failure have more than tripled in Florida since 2018, and the outbreak shows no signs of slowing down.
Health Departments around the state are on high alert, as over 1,636 cases have been reported since the beginning of 2019, with a majority being reported in the Tampa area. According to a recent Sun Sentinel article, 77 new cases were reported in Florida just last week.
Florida Lt. Gov. Jeanette Nuñez said the number infected continues to rise despite state efforts to curb the outbreak. In May, the Chronicle reported 10 cases of hepatitis A logged in Citrus County since January, and by June the number increased to 18.
That’s a significant uptick considering Citrus County had no cases of hepatitis A reported in 2017 or 2018, so citizens should be on alert.
The Florida Department of Health in Citrus County (FDOH) recently administered vaccines to vulnerable, at-risk populations like the homeless and injection drug users, and offered 200 free shots to residents. That’s a good start, and we hope to see more complimentary vaccines offered to Citrus residents in the future.
Hepatitis A is spread through coming into contact with infected feces. When a person with the virus doesn’t wash their hands thoroughly, it can easily spread to other people. An uninfected person can contract the virus by ingesting contaminated food or drinks, through close personal and sexual contact, or through drug use.
Food service workers have a high risk of exposing restaurant patrons to the virus, and should be vaccinated. Many Florida restaurants are postings signs and enforcing strict hand washing. The health department is recommending that people get vaccinated and practice thoroughly washing their hands.
Symptoms of hepatitis A include fever, nausea, yellow eyes and skin, loss of appetite, abdominal pain and more. Most often it is not fatal, but people with compromised immune systems, chronic diseases and the elderly are more likely to experience complications that can be fatal.
Nationally this year, 170 people have died from hepatitis A. Florida has recorded 18 deaths. Don’t be part of the statistic; be proactive and get vaccinated today.
To learn more about hepatitis A or how you can get vaccinated, contact your primary care physician or the FDOH at 352-527-0068 or visit www.floridahealth.gov.