SPARTANBURG, S.C. (WSPA) – South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control determined Monday that there was a statewide outbreak of hepatitis A.
DHEC said that an increase in a number of cases in Aiken County and other parts of the state led to the decision.
According to DHEC, South Carolina usually averages 19 reported cases of hepatitis A annually. Between November 1, 2018, and May 10, 2019, there were 86 reported cases of hepatitis A. Fifty-nine of those cases lead to people being hospitalized and one death.
“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,” said Dr. Linda Bell, state epidemiologist and director of the Bureau of Communicable Disease Prevention and Control.
Hepatitis A is a contagious liver infection caused by a virus that is typically transmitted through contact with infected people or through eating or drinking food or drinks contaminated by an infected person, DHEC said.
People who contract hepatitis A usually feel sick for several weeks with symptoms including nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, stomach pain and yellowing eyes and skin. DHEC said people usually recover completely and do not have lasting liver damage.
According to DHEC, almost half of the cases in Aiken County involve people who report drug use.
DHEC said certain adults who may be at higher risk for hepatitis A include:
- People who use injection or non-injection drugs
- People who are homeless
- People who are or recently were incarcerated
- Men who have sex with men
- People with chronic liver disease like cirrhosis, hepatitis B or C
- People who are traveling to countries where hepatitis A is common
- People with chronic liver disease like cirrhosis, hepatitis B or C as they have an increased risk of complications if infected with hepatitis A
“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.
Residents can take several steps to protect themselves and their communities, including:
- Getting vaccinated against hepatitis A
- Washing their hands after using the restroom and before eating or preparing meals
- Refraining from sex with someone who has a hepatitis A infection
- Immediately seek medical care if a hepatitis A infection is suspected
DHEC has been offering free hepatitis A vaccines to people who are drug users, homeless, men who have sex with other men or those who have a history of incarceration.
Residents can schedule an appointment for vaccination at their local health department by calling (855) 472-3432 or by clicking here.
For more information on hepatitis A, visit the DHEC website or the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website.