LANSING (WWJ) – State health officials are advising residents to get the hepatitis A vaccine shot after a dramatic rise in cases, and deaths, in Michigan.

From August 1, 2016 to September 15, 2017, there have been 319 confirmed cases of hepatitis A in Macomb, Oakland, Wayne, Monroe and St. Clair counties. Fourteen people have died and the vast majority of those affected by the disease were hospitalized. Authorities say it’s a sixteen-fold increase from August 1, 2014 to September 15, 2015.

Officials have not discovered any contaminated food or drink that could responsible for the outbreak. It appears to be being spread mostly through intravenous drug use, sex and contact with others who have the disease. Hepatitis A is contagious even two weeks before symptoms appear.

Ages of the cases range from 20 to 87 years, with a median age of 42.5 years, and two-thirds of the cases (64 percent) are men. Over half of the cases (51 percent) have a history of substance abuse, 28 percent are co-infected with hepatitis C, 15 percent are homeless/in transient housing situations, and nineteen cases (6.4 percent) have a history of recent incarceration, according to the state.

“The Southeast Michigan hepatitis A outbreak remains a top priority for public health officials from both the investigation and prevention standpoints,” Dr. Eden Wells, the state’s chief medical executive, said in a statement. “Hepatitis A is a vaccine-preventable disease and in addition to our investigation of current and new cases, our focus is strongly aimed at increasing vaccination in adults, where hepatitis A vaccination is commonly low.”

Vaccination is recommended for the following at–risk individuals:

  • Health care workers who have direct contact with patients
  • People who use injection and non-injection illegal drugs
  • People who participate in commercial exchange of sexual practices
  • People who are homeless or in transient living situations
  • People who are or have recently been incarcerated
  • Close personal contacts (e.g., household, sexual) of hepatitis A patients
  • Food handlers
  • Men who have sex with men
  • People with liver diseases, such as hepatitis B or hepatitis C. Persons with chronic liver disease have an elevated risk of death from liver failure.
  • Any person who wishes to be immune to hepatitis A
  • People who live, work, or recreate in SE Michigan and are concerned about getting hepatitis A

Individuals with hepatitis A are infectious for two weeks prior to symptom onset. Symptoms of hepatitis A include jaundice (yellowing of the skin), fever, fatigue, loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, dark urine, and light-colored stools. Symptoms usually appear over a number of days and last less than two months; however, some people can be ill for as long as six months. Hepatitis A can sometimes cause liver failure and death.

Risk factors for a hepatitis A infection include living with someone who has hepatitis A, having sexual contact with someone who has hepatitis A, or sharing injection or non-injection illegal drugs with someone who has hepatitis A. The virus can also be transmitted through contaminated food or water.

Contact your local health department about how to receive the hepatitis A vaccine:

  • Detroit Health Department, 313-876-4000
  • Macomb County Health Department, 586-469-5372
  • Monroe County Health Department, 1-888-354-5500, Ext. 7800
  • Oakland County Health Division, 1-800-848-5533 or email noc@oakgov.com
  • Clair County Health Department, 810-987-5300
  • Wayne County Communicable Disease Unit, 734-727-7078

For more information, visit michigan.gov/hepatitis.

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