State facing outbreak of hepatitis A cases

DETROIT (AP) - Michigan health officials say the southeastern part of the state is seeing a serious outbreak of hepatitis A cases.

An analysis by the Detroit Free Press found that Michigan has led the U.S. in hepatitis cases per capita this year, with more than 500 reported cases so far. California was the only state with more cases reported this year, with more than 660.

"Typically what we would see this time of year is about 14 times lower than what we're currently dealing with," said Angela Minicuci, spokeswoman for the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services. "I don't know if we've seen a hepatitis A outbreak like this before."

There have been 20 deaths linked to hepatitis A in southeastern Michigan since August 2016, The Detroit News reported.

"We're continuing to see new cases almost every day so it is a concern," said Macomb County Health Department Director Bill Ridella. "I think there is a strong connection to a number of these cases with the opioid and heroin problem. About half of the cases in Macomb County has some connection with drug use and/or heroin."

The majority of cases involve drug users, homeless people and current or former inmates, health officials said. The outbreak has particularly affected Wayne, Macomb, and Oakland counties.

The state Department of Health and Human Services is encouraging high-risk individuals to get vaccinations, but increased demand in recent months has created a vaccine shortage. Hepatitis A can be prevented if a vaccine is given within two weeks of exposure.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says hepatitis A is an extremely contagious liver disease caused by the hepatitis A virus. The disease causes symptoms including abdominal pain, nausea, diarrhea, fever and jaundice. It can be spread during sex or by eating contaminated food or water.

Published: Wed, Dec 13, 2017