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Michigan's Hepatitis A Outbreak Death Toll Reaches 22—Highest In US

JAN 12, 2018 | KRISTI ROSA
Investigators from several US states are struggling with hepatitis A outbreaks that have been springing up across the country. As the virus spreads to Hawaii, and Utah health officials warn of additional potential exposures, the death toll associated with Michigan's ongoing outbreak has risen. 

Investigators from the Hawaii Department of Health have reported that 2 Kauai residents are infected by a strain of the virus that appears to be the same one that is running rampant in California.

“As our investigators continue their work, we want to remind Hawaii residents that hepatitis A vaccination is highly effective in preventing infection,” state epidemiologist Sarah Park, MD, said in a recent press release. “With large, multistate outbreaks occurring across the country, it is important that we all take precautions to prevent hepatitis A infections whether at home, work, recreating, or traveling.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices recommends that the following individuals receive hepatitis A vaccination: children under 1 year of age, individuals at increased risk for infection, those at higher risk for associated complications, and anyone who wishes to obtain immunity against the virus.

Vaccination against hepatitis A is arguably even more important now, as the virus appears to be spreading across the country. Utah, for example, has also been hit hard by hepatitis A. In fact, since January 1, 2017, Utah’s Bureau of Epidemiology reports having identified a total of 152 confirmed cases; 133 of those cases are associated with the ongoing outbreak.

On Sunday, January 7, 2018, the Salt Lake County Health Department (SLCoHD) announced that those who recently visited a 7-Eleven convenience store location in West Jordan and either used the restroom facilities or consumed certain items on specific dates (December 26-January 3) may have potentially been exposed to the virus. The SLCoHD implores these individuals to “contact the health department for information about receiving an injection to prevent hepatitis A,” the press release reads. 

The following items were implicated in possible exposure: fountain drinks or other self-serve beverages, fresh fruit, and/or items stored in the hot food case (i.e. pizza, chicken wings, hot dogs, or taquitos).

“People in need of prophylaxis must receive it within a short time period of their possible exposure, so it is essential that affected customers call the health department as soon as possible,” the SLCoHD stressed. Health officials are estimating that as many as 2000 customers may have visited that 7-Eleven location within that time range.

Meanwhile, health officials in Michigan also have their hands full with those falling ill from the virus; as of January 4, 2018, the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) have confirmed 658 cases, with 539 of those individuals requiring hospitalization. With a death toll of 22, Michigan’s hepatitis A outbreak has officially become the nation’s deadliest.

In response to this growing problem, $7.1 million has been allocated to the MDHHS as well as other local health departments by the State Legislature to go towards efforts to quell the outbreak in the state, local news source The Oakland Press reported. In fact, Lynn Sutfin, state department of health public information officer said that Oakland has been allocated $203,000 of that lump sum, according to the news source. She also said that the majority of the state-purchased vaccines will be used by local health departments for those who have already been exposed to the virus, as well as for those who are at increased risk of infection.

“The vaccine has also been made available for use to hospital emergency departments who frequently see individuals that we want to target for vaccination and jails to vaccinate on intake to the jail,” Ms. Sutfin said. “There are some additional clinic settings that routinely see those who are at-risk for contracting hepatitis A where we have made the vaccine available.”
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