HARRISBURG, PA — As the commonwealth recognized World Hepatitis Day, the Department of Health today urged Pennsylvanians to know the facts about hepatitis A and take steps to protect themselves, especially since the state is experiencing an outbreak.
“While the hepatitis A outbreak impacts the entire state, Southeastern Pennsylvania is especially hard hit,” Secretary of Health Dr. Levine said. “The best way to prevent hepatitis A is through vaccination, washing your hands regularly and talking to your doctor immediately if you think you have been exposed to hepatitis A.”
Pennsylvania declared a hepatitis A outbreak in May 2019. Since 2018, there have been 282 cases in 37 counties. However, in 2019, there has been an increase in the number of cases, with 183 cases seen as of July 22, 2019, an 83 percent increase. By declaring an outbreak, Pennsylvania is eligible for federal funds to purchase additional vaccine if it is needed.
“It’s hard to know for sure why we are experiencing an outbreak of hepatitis A,” Dr. Levine said. “We do know that the commonwealth has seen an increase of diseases like hepatitis C and HIV because of the opioid epidemic. We also know that the neighboring states of Ohio and West Virginia have seen more than 2,000 cases since January 2018.”
Hepatitis A is a liver infection caused by the hepatitis A virus. It is spread person to person after putting something in the mouth that has been contaminated with the feces of a person infected with hepatitis A. It is a vaccine-preventable illness. Residents can also take further steps to prevent receiving hepatitis A by washing your hands regularly, including after using the bathroom, changing a diaper and before preparing or eating food.
People most at risk of contracting hepatitis A are:
- Someone who has encountered a person who has hepatitis A;
- People who use injected illicit drugs;
- People who are homeless; and
- Men who have sex with other men.
Symptoms can be mild and last several weeks. More severe infections can last several months or can be fatal. Many people infected do not experience any symptoms. Symptoms can include fever, loss of appetite, nausea and vomiting, stomach pain and jaundice. In the recent outbreak, roughly 75 percent have been hospitalized.
If you have symptoms, get plenty of rest, eat healthy foods, drink a lot of water, stay away from alcohol, and talk with your doctor before taking any medications, including over-the-counter drugs.
If you think you may have been exposed to hepatitis A, contact your physician for further testing. While there is no treatment, your doctor can monitor and treat your symptoms. If you are uninsured or underinsured, contact 1-877-PA-HEALTH to find a state health center nearest you where you can be tested and monitored.
For more information about hepatitis A, visit www.health.pa.gov.
Source: Pennsylvania Department of Health
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