CADILLAC — At its peak, the Hepatitis A outbreak in Michigan saw health officials diagnosing 20 to 25 new cases a week. Before the outbreak, 60 cases was typical for one year.
Since the outbreak began in August 2016, 913 people have been diagnosed to date and 28 have died.
Chances are, if you get sick with Hepatitis A, you’re going to wind up in the hospital; over 80 percent of the people diagnosed in Michigan, or 733, were hospitalized.
“Which is incredibly high,‘ noted Lynn Sutfin, a Michigan Department of Health and Human Services spokesperson.
But the outbreak may be waning.
“Right now we have seen a significant drop in cases,‘said Sutfin, who added that there’ve been several weeks with zero new cases. “This is a good sign.‘
Still, the state health agency wants local health departments and providers to be vigilant. Outbreaks in other states are still ongoing.
And one of the more recent Hepatitis A cases happened earlier this year in Missaukee County.
This outbreak of Hepatitis A is unusual because it’s being transmitted person-to-person.
Usually, it’s a disease that spread because of food contamination, Sutfin explained. Once officials pin down the cause, remove contaminated food from the shelves and treat people, the outbreak stops.
This time around, people are giving the disease to each other via a fecal-oral route.
That’s true in Michigan and it’s true in other states where there is a Hepatitis A outbreak, Sutfin noted.
Higher risk factors include drug use, homelessness and incarceration. Men who have sex with men are also at risk, according to Sutfin.
It probably comes down to sanitary and hygiene practices, Sutfin said. Homeless people might not have access to warm water and soap. Incarcerated people live in tighter quarters and drug users might be sharing needles.
Transmission risks are similar to that of HIV. People that have HIV may be more susceptible to Hepatitis A, according to Dr. Jennifer Morse, medical director of District Health Department No. 10, which serves three counties in the Cadillac News coverage area; Missaukee, Lake and Wexford. While HIV rates are stable, there’s concern infection rates could climb because of increasing injection drug use in rural areas, Morse said.
VACCINATION AND PREVENTION
Handwashing with soap and warm water is a crucial step to preventing Hepatitis A from spreading.
And yes, it’s gotta be soap.
Hand sanitizer won’t kill Hepatitis A, but soap will, Sutfin said. She also said you should not share personal items like towels, toothbrushes and eating utensils. And don’t have sex with someone who has Hepatitis A.
Hepatitis A is now a routine vaccination for children, Dr. Morse said. Kids get it around their first birthday and then again about six months later. Morse said people who turn 18 and weren’t vaccinated should get the vaccine. Adults who experience the above risk factors should also be vaccinated.
People planning to travel abroad should also check whether the Hepatitis A vaccination is recommended for the area they’re visiting, Sutfin said.
HEPATITIS B AND C
All forms of Hepatitis — A, B and C are most common — are inflammation of the liver caused by a virus, according to Sutfin.
There are vaccinations for A and B but not C.
And while “increases in Hepatitis B have been less pronounced most likely as a result of childhood immunizations that are protecting this age-cohort from the infection,‘ according to Sutfin, Hepatitis C is still spreading.
Like Hepatitis A, injection drug use is contributing to the problem.
“We continue to see large volumes of new Hep C diagnoses among young adults, mostly associated with use of unsterile works to administer drugs,‘ Sutfin said via email.