Bay Area counties step up efforts to combat spread of hepatitis A

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The statewide battle against hepatitis A is now in full force. Florida officials declared a public health emergency Thursday in an effort to combat the spread of the disease.

"What this will do is allow us to have a different posture. We'll be able to work with the CDC to not only get resources but also personnel," said Governor Ron DeSantis during a press conference Friday. 

For the governor, the solution is simple.

"You just need to get people out there to provide the medicine," DeSantis said.

But Bay Area counties, like Pinellas, are already one step ahead. They've taken their fight against the disease outside the walls of local health departments. 

"We don't want there to be a problem with people getting the vaccine, so we're bringing the vaccine out to where the people are. We're actually doing in Pinellas County what we call foot teams, going out to areas that have vulnerable populations. We're reaching out to the jails," said Tom Iovino with the Florida Health Department in Pinellas County.

There has been a staggering spike in hepatitis A cases in Florida in 2019 -- quadruple the number of cases just the year before. The counties at the top of that list are Hillsborough, Pinellas and Pasco.

However, those startling statistics have only fueled the counties' fight. 

"We're wanting to make sure we get this under control. We don't want this to become spreading like wildfire," said Iovino. "We want to eventually reduce the number of cases."

He continued, "We've gotten a lot of vaccines out, and hopefully, we'll see the number of case start to drop off dramatically."

The stats are starting to reflect their efforts. All three counties have seen a decrease in reported cases during the month of July, compared to the beginning of the year.

Officials from the affected counties say they will continue to do their part. 

"The only way to combat this is education and vaccination," said Iovino.

But he said the rest is up to the public to wash their hands and get vaccinated.

Over the weekend, counties plan to offer free hepatitis A vaccines for those looking to protect themselves.