Pinellas and Pasco counties are starting to see significant declines in the number of hepatitis A cases that are being diagnosed each month, the state’s surgeon general told a panel of senators on Tuesday.
The counties are still leading the state in the total number of hepatitis A cases this year, but an increase in vaccination rates may have helped them turn the corner, Surgeon General Scott Rivkees said.
At its peak, Pinellas saw 66 new cases per month and Pasco saw 77. Both counties saw 19 new cases in September, Rivkees told the Senate Committee on Health Policy.
“And of the 17 highly-impacted counties, we have now seen decreases in a three-month trend for 11 counties,” Rivkees said.
In Pinellas County, for the first time last week there were no new cases of hepatitis A reported, Rivkees said.
“The county health department there deserves recognition for that,” he said. The Health Department in Pinellas has been giving out free vaccinations to anyone who wants one for several months. It has also sent teams out into the community to walk the streets offering vaccinations to people who are considered at a higher risk of getting the disease.
Despite advances in several areas, the state has documented slight increases in the number of hepatitis A cases in four counties: Hillsborough, Citrus, Lake and Marion.
In those areas, the increases are related to pockets of methamphetamine use, Rivkees said.
The health department is working with those counties to increase vaccinations of the high-risk populations.
So far this year, more than 2,800 people have been diagnosed with hepatitis A, compared to about 550 during all of last year. The disease has killed 45 people, most of which were older than 60.
Rivkees declared a public health emergency on Aug. 1 to raise awareness of the outbreak and to stress the importance of vaccinations.
Since the declaration, the health department has provided vaccinations to 45,000 people, Rivkees said. He expects the outbreak to come under control when vaccinations are provided to at least 80 percent of the high-risk populations, such as homeless people and drug users.
“In the 17 highly-impacted counties, our vaccination rate of the high-risk population is now greater than 50 percent,” Rivkees said. “We will declare this outbreak over when there's been 100 days since there have not been cases of hepatitis A, which is two incubation cycles for hepatitis A.”
Rivkees told the committee he does not have a timeline for when he expects to reach the vaccination goal because each county is different.