The hepatitis A outbreak has been growing across the country since 2017. Here in Florida, cases are surging.
The numbers are shocking. According to the Florida Department of Health, there were 549 hepatitis A cases across the state in 2018. So far this year, the number of people contracting the illness has spiked to 954.
"So it's pretty alarming,” said Dr. John Morrison with AdventHealth Medical Group.
He says washing your hands with soap and water kills the hepatitis A germs. However, the number one thing you can do to protect yourself from hepatitis A is get vaccinated. The shot isn't one of the state's required immunizations, but it is strongly recommended.
"I would absolutely vaccinate everyone one and above,” said Morrison.
It's important to remember the vaccine is a two-dose series. So to be properly protected, you need a booster shot six months after the first vaccine. Doctors say the shot could protect you for life, but new information suggests it could be a shorter timeframe.
"Typically it’s for life, but certain studies have shown it lasts potentially up to 20 years," Morrison said.
Hepatitis A is a highly contagious liver disease that's also completely preventable. The virus is spread mainly from person to person through poor hygiene.
"Whenever someone doesn't wash their hands after they go to the bathroom it can be transmitted,” said Pinellas County DOH Epidemiologist, Rachel Ilic. “It can remain on surfaces, door handles, door knobs, tables, things like that. And then someone comes along and they touch that same surface and then they might eat something before they wash their hands, and that's how they become infected."
The scary part is someone who has hepatitis A can be contagious for weeks and not even know it. If you contract the illness, symptoms can last up to six months.
"It starts off you might feel a little bit nauseous, you might have some vomiting, you might have belly pain, your urine turns dark, your stool turns like a white clay color, you get jaundice with the yellow eyes," explained Virginia Crandall, Director of Nursing with the Hernando County DOH.
Health experts recommend anyone who's potentially exposed get the shot within two-weeks.
You can check your health records to verify you’ve received it, or get a blood test to verify immunity. But Morrison says when in doubt, get another round of the vaccine.
"Anyone whose at risk or doesn’t remember if they got it or not, they can certainly get a vaccine with another booster."
Over the last few months, thousands of people have been potentially exposed to hepatitis A at numerous Bay Area restaurants. However, the vast majority of the cases are affecting the homeless, drug users and people incarcerated.