TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – The number of cases of hepatitis A in Florida has continued to steadily increase, with the largest concentration of the outbreak in the Tampa Bay area, according to numbers posted on the state Department of Health website.
The outbreak of the contagious liver disease began in 2018 and has accelerated this year. As of April 13, Florida had 811 cases this year, topping the 548 cases reported in all of 2018. By comparison, the state had 122 cases in 2016 and 276 cases in 2017.
The Department of Health said 60 cases were reported in the week from April 7 to April 13.
From Jan. 1, 2018 through April 13, 2019, Pinellas County had the largest number of cases, with 300, according to the Department of Health. It was followed by Pasco County with 230 cases, Orange County with 170 cases and Hillsborough County with 153 cases.
The outbreak has drawn attention recently, in part because of cases discovered in Martin County. Lt. Gov. Jeanette Nunez appeared at an April 12 news conference in Martin County and said the state will “leave no stone unturned” as it investigates the outbreak.
The disease can be spread through such things as food or drinks that have been contaminated with fecal matter from people with hepatitis A.
Nunez and other officials urged people to get vaccinated against the disease.
Beverly Donahue has worked in the restaurant industry for 35 years and said it is critical that people have proper hygiene, especially when handling food.
"You go to the restroom, all employees need to wash their hands before they come out," Donahue said. "That is something that someone involved in the industry -- we are very aware of."
Dana Henning, a nurse with Community Health, most people who contract the disease get better in two to six months. Common symptoms include:
- Yellow skin, eyes
- Stomach pain
- Loss of appetite
A vaccine is available to prevent hepatitis A. There are no drugs to treat it.
Since June 2018, the Georgia Department of Public Health has identified more than 250 acute hepatitis A virus infections statewide. That's more than nine times higher than the total of 24 infections identified in 2017.