2018-07-29 / Editorial

Health officials urge vaccinations

Lapeer County public health officials and the Michigan Dept. of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) are continuing to see an elevated number of Hepatitis A cases.

Since the beginning of the outbreak in August 2016, public health response has included increased healthcare awareness efforts, public notification and education, and outreach with vaccination clinics for high-risk populations.

It has killed 27 people in Michigan, which remains in the throes of the biggest Hepatitis A outbreak in the country. Among those who have died as part of the outbreak, most of them are 50 or older and they died of liver failure, septic shock or other organ failure.

The virus is highly contagious and can be spread through food or water contaminated by the feces of an infected person, through close contact or sex with a person who has hepatitis A or by touching a surface contaminated by the virus and then touching your mouth. It causes liver inflammation — and liver failure in extreme cases — and can be prevented through vaccination and hand washing.

According to the MDHHS from Aug. 1, 2016 to July 18 of this year there have been seven confirmed cases of Hepatitis A in Lapeer County. The last case occurred in early May. The numbers are much higher in neighboring counties owing to greater populations and percentage of people with history of injection and noninjection drug use, homelessness or transient housing and incarceration. The proximity to neighboring counties with more cases makes it prudent that health officials continue to work to protect our community.

As of June 30, hardest hit has been Macomb County where there have been 221 cases. Elsewhere there have been 118 cases in Oakland County, 33 in St. Clair and 24 cases in Genesee.

No common sources of food, beverages, or drugs have been identified as a potential source of infection. Transmission appears to be through direct person-toperson spread and illicit drug use. You can get Hepatitis A by eating contaminated food or water, during sex, or just by living with an infected person. Illness can appear 15-50 days after exposure and you can be sick for several weeks. In some cases, people can die. Although not all people infected with Hepatitis A experience illness, symptoms can include nausea and vomiting, belly pain, feeling tired, fever, loss of appetite, yellowing of the skin and eyes, dark urine, pale-colored feces and joint pain.

There are steps you can take to reduce the risk of Hepatitis A transmission. The best way to reduce the risk of getting Hepatitis A is to get vaccinated with two doses of Hepatitis A vaccine. The Lapeer County Health Dept. says people can reduce their risk of contracting Hepatitis A through good hand washing, and whenever possible, using their own towels, toothbrushes, and eating utensils.

Individuals with chronic liver disease (e.g., cirrhosis and hepatitis C) may not be at increased risk of getting HAV infections, but are at increased risk of having poor outcomes if they are infected with HAV. Restaurant workers and food service employees are urged to get a Hepatitis A vaccination.

In a related matter, the MDHHS on Thursday confirmed two additional cases of measles in Michigan for 2018; both related to international travel. These individuals were residents of Oakland and Washtenaw counties. Neither of these cases are related to the two previous Michigan cases this year. However, all four cases were the result of exposure outside of the country, emphasizing the higher risk of measles during international travel and the importance of being protected by vaccination.

Area residents may get a vaccine against Hepatitis A, the measles and other viruses at the Lapeer County Health Dept. The clinic is located in the John T. Rich Building at 1800 Imlay City Rd. in Lapeer Township. To schedule an appointment, call 810-667-0448.

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