Hepatitis A on the Rise: What You Need to Know

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April 15, 2019

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Parts of South Florida are seeing an increase in cases of hepatitis A, a vaccine-preventable, communicable disease of the liver caused by the hepatitis A virus (HAV).

Over the last few days, Florida health officials have confirmed seven cases of adults with hepatitis A in Broward County, following multiple cases reported in Palm Beach and Martin counties. Health officials from all three counties say they have reached outbreak thresholds that make them high-risk zones.

Although it is rarely fatal, hepatitis A can cause death in some people. A Palm City husband and wife died two weeks ago due to complications from the Hep A, officials said. A third death in Martin County was confirmed last week.

Hepatitis A is usually spread person-to-person or through the consumption of contaminated food or water. Getting vaccinated and frequent hand-washing are the best ways of protecting yourself, doctors and public health officials say. Talk to your health care provider or call your county health department about the vaccine.

Most adults with hepatitis A have symptoms that include fatigue, low appetite, stomach pain, nausea, and jaundice, that usually resolve within two months of infection. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends unvaccinated people who have been exposed within two weeks to get the vaccine, or a shot of immune globulin, to prevent severe complications.

“It is a good vaccine to have, especially if you’re traveling often and if you’re traveling to an area that’s known to have hepatitis A infections,” says Deepa Sharma, D.O., a family medicine physician with Baptist Health Primary Care.

Most people who contract hepatitis A feel are sick for several weeks, but they usually recover completely and do not have lasting liver damage. In rare cases, hepatitis A can cause liver failure and death; this is more common in people older than 50 and in people with other liver diseases, according to the CDC.

How is Hepatitis A Spread?
Hepatitis A is normally spread when a person unknowingly ingests the virus from objects, food, or drinks contaminated by small, undetected amounts of stool from an infected person, states the CDC. Hep A can also spread from close personal contact with an infected person, such as through sex or caring for someone who is ill, says the CDC.

Who is At Risk for Hepatitis A?
Although anyone can get hepatitis A, certain groups of people are at higher risk, according to the CDC, such as:

  • People with direct contact with someone who has hepatitis A
  • Travelers to countries where hepatitis A is common
  • Men who have sexual contact with men
  • People who use drugs, both injection and non-injection drugs
  • Household members or caregivers of a recent adoptee from countries where hepatitis A is common
  • People with clotting factor disorders, such as hemophilia
  • People working with nonhuman primates

Common Symptoms
A person can have hepatitis A for up two weeks without feeling sick, says the Florida Health Department. But during that time, they can spread the virus to others. Symptoms usually start two to six weeks after infection and last less than two months. They include:

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

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