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Everything you need to know about hepatitis A in the Tampa Bay area

Posted: 6:04 PM, May 02, 2019
Updated: 2019-05-07 14:34:16-04
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TAMPA, Fla. – Hepatitis A has become a booming epidemic in Tampa Bay and we are taking action to help keep you and your family stay safe.

The hepatitis A epidemic has become so bad that Florida officials declared a heath advisory on the virus statewide. As more restaurants in our area get linked with cases of hepatitis A, it is more important than ever to follow proper preventative measures. On top of that, it’s also vital to not fall for various types of myths and misinformation being spread online and on social media regarding the disease.

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ABC Action News compiled basic and key information you need to know about hepatitis A so you and your family will know how you can stay safe at work, school and when you eat out.

What is hepatitis A?

Hepatitis A is a communicable disease of the liver caused by the hepatitis A virus, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). It is usually transmitted person-to-person through the “fecal-oral route or consumption of contaminated food or water,” according to CDC.

How does hepatitis A spread?

Hepatitis A spreads through the feces of those infected with the virus, according to the Florida Department of Health (DOH). If the infected person doesn’t thoroughly wash their hands after using the restroom, the traces of feces can transfer to objects, food, drinks or drugs they touch, DOH said on its website. The virus then spreads from person to person if the said contaminated food, drink, object or drugs are ingested.

DOH said the virus can also spread during close contact, like sex.

State officials say there have been over 1,200 hepatitis a cases in Florida since January 2018.

ABC Action News' I-Team found Pinellas County had no cases of Hepatitis A just two years ago, but the county reported more than 100 new cases last year.

Now, more than 200 new confirmed cases of Hepatitis A have been reported in Pinellas County in just the first four months of this year.

Who are most at-risk of getting hepatitis A?

Those who are in close contacts with the infected person, such as roommates, family members, caretakers or sexual partners are at the highest risk of contracting hepatitis A.

The CDC said those with occupational risks, such as people working with monkeys or those working with hepatitis A in a research laboratory are also at-risk of getting hepatitis A.

Those who dined at places where an infected employee worked at while battling the virus are also at-risk of contracting hepatitis A.

CDC encourages the following people to receive vaccine for hepatitis A:

  • Infants ages 6 to 11 months traveling overseas
  • Toddlers
  • Toddlers experiencing homelessness
  • Family members of adoptees from countries where hepatitis A is common
  • People in direct contact with others who have hepatitis A
  • People who work or travel in parts of the world where hepatitis A is common
  • People who use any type of illicit drugs, not just injected ones
  • People with clotting-factor disorders
  • People with chronic liver disease

How we can prevent it from spreading?

Vaccination and washing your hands thoroughly after using the restroom are the two simple ways to prevent the spread of hepatitis A.

The Florida Department of Health in Pinellas County (DOH-Pinellas) offers hepatitis A vaccines to the public at no cost and appointments are not necessary at several vaccine centers. For more information on where you can get these free vaccines in Pinellas County, you can click here . Other Florida counties also provide free or discounted hepatitis A vaccines. You can click here for more information .

What happens if you think you been exposed?

Medical experts recommend you get vaccinated as soon as possible. The Pinellas County Health Department offers free vaccines to anyone who wants one.

The Mayo Clinic suggests getting the injection within two weeks of exposure to help protect you from being infected by hepatitis A.

Symptoms

  • According to the Mayor Clinic, hepatitis A symptoms don’t appear until you’ve had it for a few weeks.
  • Here are the common symptoms and signs.
  • Fatigue
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Abdominal pain, especially on the upper right side under your lower ribs
  • Clay-colored bowel movements
  • Loss of appetite
  • Low-grade fever
  • Dark urine
  • Joint pain
  • Jaundice
  • Intense itching

*information provided by the Mayo Clinic

What’s next?

Unlike other forms of hepatitis, hepatitis A does not cause long-term liver damage and it does not become chronic, according to the Mayo Clinic.

To treat hepatitis A symptoms, doctors usually recommend rest, adequate nutrition and fluids, CDC said. It can take few months for some people to fully recover from hepatitis A.

Join us on Thursday 8 p.m. ET, as ABC Action News’ Facebook page will hold a live Q&A session with Dr. Bob Wallace, a former senior physician with the Pinellas County Health Department. Click here to join our Facebook Live discussion.