Hillsborough County sees drastic drop in new hepatitis A cases

Hepatitis a hit the Bay Area hard this year but there is finally some good news in the fight to curb the spread of the disease.

The number of newly reported cases in Hillsborough County is going down and health workers are linking the trend to their push for vaccines.

Their efforts are working so well, the number of adults vaccinated since January more than tripled last month. A health department scientist says, while it’s good news, there’s still more work to do.

Hillsborough County health workers made a big push for the vaccine.

“It’s been probably the last six months that’s we’ve really ramped up the number of outreach events,” Florida Department of Health epidemiologist Mike Wiese said.

It's working. Since January, Hillsborough County reported 103 cases of hepatitis A, averaging about four new cases a week.

But the county only added five new cases in last three weeks.

Wiese said health workers have targeted areas and populations where the disease is more likely to spread, directly influencing the downturn in new cases.

“We really have made a much greater effort to get out in those communities where we noticed the most cases,” Wiese said. “Our homeless communities, those who are using drugs, the recently incarcerated.”

The highly contagious liver disease can spread when a person ingests the virus from food, drinks or objects contaminated with feces of an infected person who does not wash their hands after using the bathroom. It can also spread through close contact.

“If it’s introduced into the wrong type of setting, it really can spread throughout the community,” Wiese said.

Several restaurants made headlines this year for food service workers testing positive for the disease, prompting patrons to get the vaccine. However, Wiese said the number of cases associated with food consumption are very low.

Still, vaccines are the only prevention.

In January, Hillsborough County health workers gave 229 vaccines to adults. That number more than tripled by May, with 762 vaccines.

“It shows all of the hard work that we’ve been doing in that we’ve been able to slow down the spread of that disease in the community,“ Wiese said.

Hillsborough County health workers say they are giving roughly 200 vaccines a week and continue to focus on at-risk groups.

The Bay Area has the most reported cases of hepatitis A in the state.

In Pinellas County there have been 287 reported cases since January to date, averaging about 11 new cases per week. There were only 25 new cases reported in Pinellas County in the last three weeks, according to Florida Department of Health data.

In Pasco County there have been 314 reported cases of hepatitis A to date, averaging about 13 cases a week. Florida - DOH data showed the county added 59 new cases in the last three weeks.