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Florida Has Been Experiencing a Hepatitis a Health Emergency: Here's What You Need to Know

In August 2019, Florida made headlines after the Florida Department of Health officials made a public health announcement stating that 17 counties were "critically impacted" by Hepatitis A, USA Today reports. To qualify as critically impacted, the county had to have at least 10 cases per 100,000 people.

Florida Surgeon General Dr. Scott Rivkees also declared the rise of the Hepatitis A as a “public health emergency,” in the hopes that it would create public awareness of how the virus is being spread, as well as initiate the necessary sanitation steps. "Our new recommendations really have guidance for sanitation of public facilities, which should help lessen the risk of hepatitis A remaining in services," Dr. Rivkees said. "Also, we all need to remember hand washing is a key to prevention."

With this in mind, it’s probably a good time to discuss Hepatitis A: It is a highly contagious disease that targets the liver. According to Medical News Today, it can be contracted when an individual eats or drinks something that has been contaminated with the fecal matter of an individual with Hepatitis A. Those who are at risk of catching the virus may already have a compromised immune system, use intravenous drugs, are homeless, or engage in unprotected oral and anal sex.

For many people, after contracting the virus they will find they experience flu-like symptoms (including diarrhea, nausea and vomiting, and low-grade fever), but most recover within 1 to 2 weeks—although Medical News Today also notes that symptoms should not last for more than two months. However, in some individuals, Hepatitis A can cause liver failure.

The viral disease used to be fairly uncommon in the United States because it is preventable with vaccination, which is why this new health emergency is so worrying. In fact, the data released by 30 states have indicated that there have been "widespread outbreaks" of Hepatitis A in the United States (via Nurse.org), specifically among drug users and the homeless.

"The best way to prevent hepatitis A is through vaccination. It is important that we vaccinate as many high-risk individuals as possible in order to achieve herd immunity," Dr. Rivkees stated.

But who are these high-risk individuals? Dr. Rivkees has explained (via USA Today) that 80 percent of the high-risk population “has to be vaccinated for the number of cases” in the state of Florida to decline. To do this, health care providers have set up foot teams who enter areas of homelessness and help to vaccinate individuals. He added, "Then they are going to jails where we can vaccinate individuals who may be at risk there."

[Image via Shutterstock]

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