Pennsylvania health officials have declared an outbreak of hepatitis A that has swept across the state.
Since January 2018, there have been 171 cases reported in 36 counties, the state’s Department of Health said on Monday.
More than 60 cases alone have been identified since the start of 2019, Nate Wardle, a spokesperson for the Department of Health, told DailyMail.com
It comes as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported earlier this month that there were 300 percent more cases across the US between 2016 and 2018 than the previous three-year period.
According to the state’s secretary of health, Dr Rachel Levine, declaring an outbreak makes Pennsylvania eligible for federal funds to buy more vaccine doses if necessary.
Since January 2018, there have been 171 cases of hepatitis A reported in 36 counties in Pennsylvania, and more than 60 cases alone this year
‘It’s hard to know for sure why we are experiencing an outbreak of hepatitis A,’ Dr Levine said in a press release.
‘We do know that the commonwealth has seen an increase of diseases like hepatitis C and HIV because of the opioid epidemic.’
According to the National Institute of Drug Abuse, there were more than 2,500 deaths in Pennsylvania related to opioids.
That’s a rate of about 21.2 deaths per 100,000 persons, higher than the national average rate of 14.6 deaths per 100,000 persons.
Data from the Pennsylvania Department of Health shows the counties that have been hit the hardest by the outbreak are Allegheny County and Philadelphia.
Wardle said that Philadelphia has around 40 confirmed cases, while Allegheny has confirmed about 25 cases.
Dr Levine added that more than 2,000 cases of hepatitis A have been reported in the neighboring states of Ohio and West Virginia.
They are among nine states – including Arkansas, Hawaii, Indiana, Kentucky, Mississippi, Missouri and Tennessee – that have seen hepatitis A cases increase by 500 percent.
Hepatitis A is a virus that attacks the body through liver inflammation. It is highly contagious and is typically spread through sexual contact, needle sharing, or by consuming food that has been contaminated by someone infected with the virus.
Symptoms – which include fever, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain and dark urine – can take anywhere from two to seven weeks after exposure to appear.
Although many who are infected show no symptoms, it can take a few months for the illness to pass.
The homeless are more vulnerable to hepatitis A, which easily spreads when people do not have access to good hygiene and do not wash their hands after using the restroom. The disease can also spread through contaminated food and water.
Hepatitis A has been a recommended childhood vaccine since the mid-1990s.
Wardle says that vaccination will be targeted at high-risk groups including homeless people, illicit drugs users and men who have sex with men.
‘We’re not calling for a vaccination of all people, but we’re making sure people in these target groups are vaccinated,’ he said.
Along with getting vaccinated, public health officials suggest strategies that include hand-washing with soap and water after going to the bathroom and before eating or preparing food.
Other prevention strategies include avoiding sex with anyone who has hepatitis A and not sharing towels, toothbrushes, eating utensils, food, drinks, smokes or drug paraphernalia with other people.