GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. – With 905 cases of hepatitis A reported in Michigan in the last two months, it should come as no surprise some of those cases are in Kent County.

“This has been the largest person-to-person hepatitis A outbreak in Michigan’s history,” said Dr. Eden Wells, Michigan Department of Health and Human Services chief medical executive.

The Kent County Health Department was recently notified of a fourth case that is linked to this outbreak. Because the case was diagnosed within 100 days of a previous case, Kent County is now listed as part of the state’s outbreak jurisdiction.

According to a press release, MDHHS identifies geographic areas within the outbreak jurisdiction as those where there is a potential for ongoing transmission of hepatitis A.

“Kent County normally sees about one case of hepatitis A per year,” said Adam London, Administrative Health Officer at KCHD. “In 2018 we have had eight cases so far, including four of the same genotype. It is a reminder about how communicable this illness is and that we need to be vigilant about protecting ourselves and our loved ones.”

According to the state, this outbreak continues to have a high hospitalization rate, with 726 people hospitalized (80.2 percent) and 28 deaths.

“It’s imperative that Michigan residents get vaccinated to protect themselves and prevent the further spread of this outbreak in Michigan communities," Wells said. "Talk to your health care provider to see if you are at risk of getting hepatitis A.”

Hepatitis A is an infection of the liver caused by a virus. It is found in the feces (poop) of people infected with hepatitis A. It is spread by consuming contaminated food or water, during sex or from close contact with an infected person. The infection can range from a mild illness lasting several weeks to a serious condition lasting several months; some may die of liver failure.

People experiencing homelessness, using illegal drugs, men who have sex with men, people with underlying liver disease and people who are in close contact with anyone in these groups, are at higher risk and should be vaccinated. Vaccination is the best method for prevention but proper hand washing with soap and water after using the bathroom and before eating or drinking is essential to stop the virus from spreading.

Hepatitis A symptoms can include:

  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Yellowing of the skin and eyes
  • Belly pain
  • Dark urine
  • Feeling tired
  • Pale-colored feces (poop)
  • Fever
  • Joint pain
  • Loss of appetite

The health department says high risk individuals should contact their healthcare provider to discuss their options and be vaccinated. KCHD can provide vaccination for uninsured and underinsured people. Call 616-632-7200 for more information.

Additional resources can be found by clicking here.

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