The Florida Department of Health in Pinellas County is providing free vaccinations to combat a rise in hepatitis A infections locally. About 58 cases of the viral liver disease have been reported county-wide this year, and about 260 have been reported in Florida.
Last year, Pinellas had no reported new cases of hepatitis A. Accordinging to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in 2016, there were an estimated 4,000 hepatitis A cases in the United States. Hepatitis A rates have declined by more than 95 percent since the hepatitis A vaccine first became available.
Florida health officials are unsure what's caused the rise in new cases locally this year.
"We are on track to report the highest number of hepatitis A cases since 2005," said DOH-Pinellas Director Dr. Ulyee Choe in a news release. "We have enhanced our public health efforts in encouraging prevention to reduce new cases, but those at risk need to know that there's an effective vaccine that protects them from this disease."
Hepatitis A is typically spread by ingesting food or water contaminated by fecal matter from an infected person - or from close contact with that person.
Maggie Hall, a spokeswoman with Pinellas-DOH, said hepatitis A is easily spread when people don’t wash their hands.
"You may have the best hygiene in the world,” Hall said. “You may wash your hands every time you go to the bathroom and prepare food, but how can you count on others to do the same thing?"
According to the World Health Organization, symptoms of hepatitis A range from mild to severe, and “can include fever, malaise, loss of appetite, diarrhea, nausea, abdominal discomfort, dark-colored urine and jaundice.”
Unlike its B and C counterparts, the symptoms usually resolve within two months.
Hall said while hepatitis A does not cause chronic liver disease – and is rarely fatal – it’s possible for someone to become severely ill.
“If you're someone with an immune compromised system, someone who is very ill already, it could be a very serious condition,” Hall said.
The two-dose vaccine is normally free for children and about $71 for adults at Florida health department lcoations.
No appointments are needed to get the vaccine at these centers:
- St. Petersburg: 205 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. St. N.
- Pinellas Park: 6350 76th Ave. N.
- Mid-County (Largo): 8751 Ulmerton Rd.
- Clearwater: 310 N. Myrtle Ave.
- Tarpon Springs: 301 S. Disston Ave.
Go to www.PinellasHealth.com or call (727) 824-6900 for information.