The Tampa Bay area has been hit especially hard by hepatitis A cases this year.
The region has led the state in 2019 with 466 new hepatitis A cases in Pasco County, 369 in Pinellas County and 145 in Hillsborough.
Free hepatitis A vaccines are part of an aggressive effort to beat back an outbreak that recently prompted Florida Surgeon General Scott Rivkees to declare a statewide emergency.
Pinellas health officials were the first in Florida to deploy “foot teams” into targeted areas, administered 789 vaccines since May. Now, other counties are undertaking similar efforts.1
Foot teams, wearing orange vests that read “public health” and toting a cooler of vaccines in a cart, fan out multiple times a week to areas where they can reach at-risk populations, such motels that line 34th and Fourth streets in St. Petersburg, plus areas of Clearwater, Largo and Tarpon Springs.
The teams appear to be making an impact. During the peak of the hepatitis A outbreak in March, Pinellas County recorded 66 cases, said health department spokesman Tom Iovino. The number dropped to 19 cases in September and six in October.2
Hepatitis A affects the liver and causes symptoms like fever, dark urine, yellow-tinged skin or eyes, fatigue and gastric issues. The virus is spread through contaminated feces. People pass it along by eating or drinking tainted food or water, or through sex.2
Two food service workers at a Denny’s restaurant in Kissimmee tested positive for hepatitis A, the Osceola County health department announced in a news release on Nov 7. The health department is advising anyone who ate or drank there between Oct. 24 and Nov. 1 to get the hepatitis A vaccine.3
Hepatitis A Prevention
Hand hygiene is a critical component of stopping transmission of hepatitis A, as are safe sex practices and vaccination. To reduce your risk of spreading or catching the hepatitis A virus:
Always wash your hands thoroughly after using the restroom and when you come in contact with an infected person’s blood, stools, or other bodily fluid.
Avoid unclean food and water.
The virus may spread quickly through day care centers and other places where people are in close contact. To prevent outbreaks, wash hands well before and after each diaper change, before serving food, and after using the restroom.4
People who are at higher risk for hepatitis A and should receive the vaccine include:
- People who work or travel in areas where hepatitis A is common or experiencing an outbreak
- People who use recreational, injectable drugs
- Health care and laboratory workers who may come in contact with the virus
- People who have chronic liver disease
- People who receive clotting factor concentrate to treat hemophilia or other clotting disorders
- Military personnel
- Men who have sex with other men
- Caretakers in day care centers, long-term nursing homes, and other facilities
1. Florida’s Hepatitis A Outbreak Prompts Vaccine Push. Associated Press
2. Florida’s Hepatitis A Outbreak Prompts A Door-To-Door Push To Vaccinate Tampa Bay Times
3. 2 Denny’s Workers in Kissimmee Test Positive for Hepatitis A Orlando Sentinel
4. Preventing Hepatitis A MedlinePlus