The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) is warning the public they are seeing elevated numbers of new hepatitis A cases in Detroit and in the counties of Macomb, Oakland, and Wayne. Cases have increased eightfold over the same time period in 2015 – 2016.
Dr. Eden Wells, chief medical executive of MDHHS, said in a statement, “together with our local health partners, we are increasing outreach to vulnerable populations to raise awareness and promote vaccination of hepatitis A. Those who live, work, or play in the city of Detroit, as well as Macomb, Oakland, and Wayne counties are urged to get vaccinated for hepatitis A and talk to their healthcare provider about their risks.”
From August 1, 2016 to March 21, 2017, 107 cases of lab-confirmed hepatitis A have been reported to public health officials in those locations. The patient age range is from 22 to 86 years, with an average age of 45. Most of those sickened have been male. Eighty-five percent of the cases have been hospitalized, which is a very high percentage. Two deaths have been reported.
About one-third of the patients have a history of substance abuse. Sixteen percent of all patients are co-infected with hepatitis C, which can cause liver failure. Officials have not been able to identify a common source of these infections.
Hepatitis A can be prevented by vaccinations. This shot is recommended as part of the routine childhood vaccination schedule, but most adults have not been vaccinated against this virus.
Hepatitis A is very contagious. It can be spread through person-to-person contact, through contaminated food and drink, and through contact with contaminated surfaces. Other risk factors include living with someone who has the illness, or sharing illegal drugs with someone who is sick.
The symptoms of hepatitis A include jaundice (yellowing of the skin and eyes), fever, fatigue, loss of appetite, dark colored urine, clay-colored stools, vomiting, nausea, and abdominal pain. Symptoms can appear within a few days of infection or take was long as 50 days to appear. Some patients can be sick for a few weeks, but others can be sick for up to six months.
MCHHS is encouraging residents in these areas to check their hepatitis A vaccination status and to talk to their doctor about the risks for contacting this illness. You can contact your county health departments for more information.