The Florida Department of Health is closely monitoring an epidemic/outbreak 

of the HEPATITUS-A virus in Florida with Tampa Bay as the epicenter

Hepatitis A in Florida 

January 1, 2018 – September 21, 2019

From January 1, 2018 through September 21, 2019, 3,157 hepatitis A cases were reported.

The number of reported hepatitis A cases more than doubled from 2016 to 2017 and nearly doubled again in 2018 after remaining relatively stable in previous years. Case counts in 2019 have already surpassed those in 2018.

Counties that reported a hepatitis A case last week are outlined in black. Since January 1, 2018, 98% of cases have likely been acquired locally in Florida.

There were 64 hepatitis A cases reported last week. Case counts in weeks prior to the public health emergency declaration are shown in light red while case counts in weeks since are shown in red.

From September 15, 2019 to September 21, 2019, county health departments (CHDs) administered 2,455 (39%) of the total 6,361 first doses of hepatitis A vaccine administered to adults age 18 years and older, as recorded in Florida SHOTS. In 2019 CHDs have administered 88,596 vaccinations and non-CHDs have administered 130,628 vaccinations for a total of 219,224 vaccinations. Vaccinations given before the public health emergency declaration are shown in lighter colors than those given after.

Hepatitis A is caused by a contagious virus that infects the liver, and can lead to serious liver problems, hospitalization and sometimes death. The virus spreads through the feces of people who have the virus. 

If a person with the virus doesn't wash his or her hands after going to the bathroom, feces can transfer to objects, food, drinks or drugs. When these things are shared, other people can unknowingly swallow the virus. The virus can also spread through close contact, such as sexual relations.

The unprecedented number of cases has put the health department on alert, said Dr. Carina Blackmore, Florida state epidemiologist.  "With Florida being the third largest state in the country, it is unfortunate, but not surprising that our case numbers have also been rising," she said.  One reason, she said, may be the state's ongoing opioid crisis. The largest population of people infected are homeless men between 30 and 50 years old who use drugs.

A number of county health departments notify the public when restaurant workers test positive for the virus, although the state does not require public notification. The reason is restaurant workers are in contact with food through which the virus can spread to hundreds of customers.

However, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said restaurant workers aren't more likely to contract the disease than any other occupation. In Florida, restaurant employees represent a fraction of the overall cases reported. Currently, Florida, like most states, does not require restaurant workers to be tested or vaccinated. The cases reported in restaurant workers have been discovered during voluntary visits to doctor's offices and clinics, which then report the positive results to the county health department. 

Since January, cases have been confirmed at the following restaurants in Tampa Bay:

Blackmore emphasized, however, that hepatitis A is a vaccine-preventable disease if given within two weeks after exposure. Those exposed should receive the first dose of the hepatitis A immunization immediately and a second dose in six months.

Symptoms of a hepatitis A infection include sudden onset of abdominal discomfort, dark urine, fever, diarrhea, pale white stools, and yellow skin and eyes (jaundice).   Anyone experiencing these symptoms should seek medical attention promptly. The DOH has set up a 24-hour hotline for people who have questions about hepatitis A. The number to call is 727-824-6932.

Even if you haven't knowingly been exposed, Blackmore said a vaccination is the best way to protect yourself against hepatitis A. Since the outbreak, the DOH is offering free vaccinations to those who were recently exposed or at high risk. Otherwise, the vaccinations cost $25 with insurance.   The Florida Department of Health is actively working to vaccinate those most at risk for the Hepatitis A infection including:

  • All children at age 1 year 
  • People who are homeless 
  • Users of recreational drugs, whether injected or not 
  • Gay and bi-sexual men 
  • People with direct contact with others who have hepatitis A 
  • Travelers to countries where hepatitis A is common 
  • People with chronic or long-term liver disease, including hepatitis B or hepatitis C 
  • People with clotting-factor disorders
  • Family and caregivers of children adopted from countries where hepatitis A is common
  • It is suspected that 65-70 % of Floridians are not vaccinated, the umber could be higher.
06-07-2019 aljacobsladder.com