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Hepatitis A Outbreak in Southeast Michigan

Washtenaw County is one of multiple counties with an increased number of hepatitis A cases. Vaccination and good handwashing can prevent the spread of illness. Vaccination is strongly recommended for all who are eligible.

Washtenaw County is considered part of a larger, ongoing outbreak of hepatitis A in Southeast Michigan. No common sources of food, beverages, or drugs have been identified as a potential source of infection, according to the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services. Over 84% of the cases have been hospitalized. 

Learn more about the Southeast Michigan outbreak at www.mi.gov/hepatitisaoutbreak

In Southeast Michigan, hepatitis A appears to be spreading through direct person-to-person contact or illicit drug use. Those with history of injection and non-injection drug use, homelessness or transient housing, and incarceration are thought to be at greatest risk. 

In Washtenaw County, 4 new cases have been identified since the beginning of Oct. 2017. In all of 2016, there was only 1 case reported in the county. 

Where to get vaccinated 

If you have health insurance, contact your health care provider or pharmacy for the hepatitis A vaccine. Washtenaw County Public Health can provide hepatitis A vaccination to anyone without health insurance, with Medicaid, or who cannot get it elsewhere. 

If you are among those prioritized for vaccination, cost is $20 at Washtenaw County Public Health. It is free if you have Medicaid. If you have health insurance that covers vaccines and don't have a risk factor, cost is $64, and a receipt will be provided for you to request reimbursement. Please call 734-544-6700 to schedule. If you are unable to pay, please let us know. No one will be turned away because of an inability to pay.

Hepatitis A

Hepatitis A is caused by the hepatitis A virus, and it can cause damage to the liver and other health problems. Hepatitis A can range from a mild illness lasting a few weeks to a serious illness lasting several months.

Symptoms of hepatitis A include fatigue, poor appetite, stomach pain or tenderness, nausea or vomiting, dark urine, and yellowing of the skin (jaundice). Most children less than 6 years do not experience symptoms. Symptoms typically appear 2 to 6 weeks after exposure. Individuals with symptoms should call their provider or seek care.

Vaccination

The best way to prevent hepatitis A is to get vaccinated. One dose is more than 90% effective at preventing infection, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The hepatitis A vaccine is now routinely recommended for children at 1 year of age. Most adults, however, have not been vaccinated against hepatitis A.

Frequent handwashing with soap and warm water after using the bathroom, changing a diaper, or before preparing food also help prevent the spread of hepatitis A.

Anyone who wishes to be immune to hepatitis A infection should consider vaccination, if currently unvaccinated. The following groups are considered most at risk in the current outbreak, and vaccination against hepatitis A is strongly recommended:

    • People who use injection or non-injection illegal drugs
    • People currently homeless or in transient living
    • Men who have sex with men
    • People incarcerated in correctional facilities
    • People who work with the higher risk groups listed above, such as health care providers and first responders
    • People who are in close contact, care for, or live with someone who has the hepatitis A virus
Because of the possibility of spreading illness to large numbers of people, Washtenaw County Public Health also strongly recommends vaccination against hepatitis A for food handlers.
 
Additionally, people with underlying liver disease or clotting factor disorders may be more at risk of serious illness, if infected, and they should seek vaccination.

How is it spread?

The hepatitis A virus is most commonly spread from person-to-person by the fecal-oral route. Most infections result from contact with an infected household member or sex partners. Sometimes, infection results from food or drink that is contaminated with the virus. It is not spread through coughs or sneezes. Anyone who has hepatitis A can spread it to others for 1-2 weeks before symptoms appear.

Frequent handwashing with soap and warm water after using the bathroom and before handling food can help prevent the spread of hepatitis A. Appropriately cooking foods can also help prevent infection. Freezing does not kill the virus.

Additional Information from Reliable Sources

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