Number of hepatitis A cases in Florida growing

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Cases of hepatitis A in the state of Florida are climbing and the Tampa Bay area is a hot spot contributing to that rise.

In 2018, the number of hepatitis A cases in Florida was more than triple the usual annual rates over the past five years. 

So far, 2019 is on track to be even worse.

In a map of hepatitis A rates in the state for 2019, counties in dark red have the highest rates - including Hillsborough, Pasco, Hernando, and Pinellas. The map shows Central Florida is being hit hard, as a whole. A list of cases per county in Florida can be found at the bottom of this article.

Last year, there were 550 cases the entire year. In the first month and a half of 2019, the Merlin database shows 239 cases, as of February 14.

Pinellas County has the most cases in the state, reporting 47 so far this year. Pasco is second with 44, and Hillsborough is fourth at 22. Orange County came in third.

Prevention starts with hand washing.

Last year, hepatitis A cases were identified in workers at some Bay Area restaurants. There has been a push to educate restaurant workers in the community to make things safer.

The hepatitis A virus spreads when an infected person uses the bathroom, or changes a dirty diaper, and doesn't properly wash their hands. Anything they touch can become contaminated. 

So if you touch a surface and then touch your mouth, or eat or drink something without washing your hands, you can get infected.

High-risk groups include people in close contact with an infected person, people living with homelessness, drug users, and men having sex with men.

97 percent of the cases in 2018 were in unvaccinated individuals, and 77 percent of them ended up in the hospital.

Last fall, the Florida Department of Health issued a public health advisory highlighting the need to increase vaccination rates.

As part of that initiative, the Florida Department of Health in Pinellas is offering free shots. Hillsborough is doing the same but only for high-risk groups.

If you don't know if you've had the two-shot series, consider that Hepatitis A vaccines didn't become routine in healthy children until May of 2006. That means most adults haven't been immunized.

There were 239 total cases of Hepatitis A reported in Florida as of February 14, 2019, according to the Merlin database. The number of cases per county, as of this writing, are:

Alachua 1; Brevard 2; Broward 4; Charlotte 1; Citrus 3 ; Clay 1; DeSoto 2 ; Duval 1 ; Flagler 1; Franklin 1; Glades 1; Hernando 9; Hillsborough 22; Lake 12; Lee 1; Leon 1; Manatee 3; Marion 20; Miami-Dade 4; Okeechobee 1; Orange 30; Osceola 1; Pasco 44; Pinellas 47; Polk 1; Santa Rosa 2; Seminole 10; St. Lucie 1; Sumter 3; Volusia 8; Walton 1