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Hepatitis A cases top 2,700 this year

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Florida had 62 newly reported cases of hepatitis A last week, bringing the total number of cases for the year to 2,738 as of Saturday, a state Department of Health report shows.

Pasco, Pinellas and Volusia counties continued to lead the state with 397, 369 and 244 cases, respectively.

A News Service of Florida analysis shows that Lake, Sarasota and Hillsborough counties had more newly reported cases of hepatitis A last week than any other areas.

There were seven newly reported cases in Lake County, six in Sarasota County and four in Hillsborough County.

The best way to protect against hepatitis A infection is through vaccination.

State Surgeon General Scott Rivkees, who doubles as secretary of the Department of Health, has said the state's goal is to vaccinate 392,000 people, or 80 percent of the state's "at risk" population. Included in that definition are homeless people.

The new report indicates 235,794 vaccinations have been given to people age 18 and older.

Rivkees' department is spending $3 million to hire part-time staff at county health departments and beef up the state's vaccination efforts.

Last week, the county health departments provided 48 percent of the first-dose vaccinations that were administered.

Hepatitis A is a highly contagious virus that attacks the liver and can cause death. It is spread through such things as food or drinks that have been contaminated with fecal matter from people with hepatitis A, or from close contact with infected people.

Rivkees also declared a public-health emergency for hepatitis A in August.