Ohio is a national leader — in an ongoing hepatitis A outbreak.
As of Jan. 21, the Buckeye State had experienced 3,468 cases of hepatitis A in a statewide community outbreak that officially began Jan. 1, 2018, according to data by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Sixty-two percent of patients were hospitalized, and 16 died.
Only Kentucky (4.996 cases) and Florida (3,881) led Ohio among 30 states in the number of reported instances.
The Ohio Department of Health said it declared a statewide community outbreak in June 2018 after observing an increase in hepatitis A cases.
Hepatitis A is a vaccine-preventable liver disease that usually spreads when a person ingests fecal matter – even in microscopic amounts – from contact with objects, food or drinks contaminated by the stool of an infected person. Hepatitis A can also be spread from close personal contact with an infected person, such as through sex. The statewide community outbreak is spread through person-to-person contact.
The ODH site gives a county-by-county breakdown of cases. Franklin, at 469 cases, led all Ohio counties as of Jan. 27, followed by Butler at 408. Montgomery was third at 279 cases, and Hamilton had 258.
The ODH also provided these statistics about the hepatitis A outbreak:
- Number of cases: 3478
- Illness onset range: 01/05/2018 – 01/22/2020
- Age range: 1-89 years
- Gender: 61% male
- Number of hospitalizations: 2142 (62%)
- Number of deaths: 16
- Number of counties with cases: 82 (93%)
The ODH said those most at risk are:
- People who use drugs (injection or non-injection)
- People experiencing unstable housing or homelessness
- People who are currently or were recently incarcerated
- Men who have sex with men
- People with chronic liver disease, including cirrhosis, hepatitis B, or hepatitis C
People with Hepatitis A can experience mild illness lasting a few weeks to severe illness lasting several months.
Depending on the webpage and the agency, there is some lag in updated numbers.
As of July 2019, the Columbus Public Health Department reported 458 cases, indicating that the city and Franklin County were responding to the largest hepatitis A outbreak there in 25 years.
The city and county had 328 hospitalizations as of July 201 (72 percent of cases), and one death. Men accounted for 283 cases, and women 175 cases.
People who believe that they are at high risk for hepatitis A infection should contact their healthcare provider or local health department for information about vaccination. People who know that they have been exposed to someone with hepatitis A should contact their healthcare provider or local health department to discuss post-exposure vaccination options. Individuals who experience symptoms of hepatitis A should contact their healthcare provider. Click here to find a local health department in Ohio.
According to the CDC, symptoms may include:
- Loss of appetite
- Abdominal pain
- Dark urine
- Clay-colored stools
- Joint pain
- Jaundice (yellowing of the skin and eyes)
The CDC says hepatitis A is similar to hepatitis B and C, but does have some differences.
Hepatitis A, hepatitis B, and hepatitis C are liver infections caused by three different viruses. Although each can cause similar symptoms, they have different modes of transmission and can affect the liver differently. Hepatitis A is usually a short-term infection and does not become chronic. Hepatitis B and hepatitis C can also begin as short-term, acute infections, but in some people, the virus remains in the body, resulting in chronic disease and long-term liver problems. There are vaccines to prevent hepatitis A and hepatitis B; however, there is no vaccine for hepatitis C.
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Jason M. Reynolds has more than 20 years’ experience as a journalist at outlets of all sizes.