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MDHHS continues to investigate hepatitis A outbreak in Southeast Michigan

Jul 7, 2017

The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services says there's been 200 confirmed cases of hepatitis A in Southeast Michigan since last August, resulting in ten deaths. The virus has been reported in Oakland, Wayne, and St. Clair counties.

Unlike hepatitis B or C, which can spread through drug use and sexual contact, hepatitis A spreads almost exclusively through consuming food or water contaminated with feces. The MDHHS says there doesn't seem to be one common source of Southeast Michigan's outbreak. 

According to the MDHHS's press release, the diagnoses show a pattern. 

Ages of the cases range from 21 to 86 years, with an average age of 44 years. Two-thirds of the cases are men, and nearly nine out of ten have been hospitalized ... Nearly half of the cases have a history of substance abuse, 20 percent are co-infected with hepatitis C, and six more recent cases have been incarcerated.

Hepatitis A is a vaccine-preventable disease. Most physicians recommend that children receive their hepatitis A shots within the first 12 and 24 months of life. However, this childhood recommendation did not go into effect until 2006, so many adults are unprotected against the disease.

Caroline Castillo is with the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services. 

"We're recommending for people who live in the Southeast region of Michigan, who recreate in Southeast Michigan, to consider talking to their doctors about vaccination," she said.

The disease isn't usually fatal, but it affects some at-risk individuals more than others. In addition to children, the vaccine is recommended for people who use injection drugs, sex workers, people with liver disease and close personal contacts of hepatitis A patients.