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DHEC: Hepatitis A outbreak declared in South Carolina

Kristina RackleyMay 14, 2019

A rising number of hepatitis A cases being diagnosed in Aiken County and other parts of South Carolina has led the Department of Health and Environmental Control to declare a statewide outbreak of the disease.

According to the press release, DHEC declares an outbreak when “a disease occurs in greater numbers than expected within a defined area and time period.” There have been 86 reported cases of Hepatitis A since November – more than four times the annual average for the past decade – which resulted in 59 hospitalizations and one death.

“Given the steady increase in cases, we determined that South Carolina is experiencing an outbreak,” said Linda Bell, state epidemiologist and director of the Bureau of Communicable Disease Prevention and Control in the press release. “As a result, DHEC is intensifying efforts to control the spread of hepatitis A to avoid a severe outbreak that could threaten the general population.”

The statewide outbreak declaration follows the Aiken County outbreak that occurred in January this year, in which downtown restaurants Aiken Brewing Co. and City Billiards announced an employee at both sites was found to have the virus. There has been a nationwide outbreak of hepatitis A since 2016.

Owners of both restaurants said they were adhering to DHEC protocol following the incident, and all of their employees had been vaccinated as a precaution. Several other restaurants in downtown Aiken, like What’s Cookin’, followed suit.

DHEC has stated the majority of cases in South Carolina’s outbreak are occurring in Aiken County. Almost half of all cases of hepatitis A involved individuals who reported drug use.

Hepatitis A is a contagious liver infection caused by a virus, which can be transmitted through physical contact with an infected person or by eating or drinking food and drinks contaminated by an infected person. However, cooking food kills the virus.

According to DHEC, symptoms usually manifest two to six weeks after a person has been infected. Most people who contract the virus will be sick for several weeks with symptoms such as nausea, stomach pain or yellowing of the eyes and skin.

The press release states that most people recover quickly and have “no lasting liver damage,” but certain people, such as the elderly, pregnant women or those with weakened immune systems can experience additional, even deadly, complications from the illness.

People who are especially at risk of contracting hepatitis A includes people who use drugs, are homeless, have chronic liver diseases or were recently incarcerated.

“We have established a hepatitis A task force that is coordinating efforts to control the spread of the virus by increasing vaccination rates among high-risk groups, establishing partnerships critical to reaching those groups, and conducting outreach and education efforts,” Bell said.

To combat the outbreak, DHEC is offering no-cost hepatitis A vaccines to individuals who have a high risk of contracting the virus.

Residents can schedule an appointment for a vaccination at the Aiken County Health Department, located at 222 Beaufort St. N.E., by calling 855-472-3432.

Other steps to prevent the spread of hepatitis A include: washing hands frequently, refraining from having sexual intercourse with a person infected with hepatitis A and immediately seeking medical attention if you suspect you may have the virus.

For more information on hepatitis A, visit scdhec.gov or cdc.gov.

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