Tampa Bay area sees spike in Hepatitis A cases

Doctors are urging Bay Area residents to get the Hepatitis A vaccine after seeing a large increase in the number of cases in the region.

It's a preventable, but sometimes deadly virus. Outbreaks of Hepatitis A are happening across the country, and here in the Sunshine State, the Bay Area is seeing an uptick.

"Certainly it is concerning because we have three of our local counties experiencing much higher levels then they have seen in the past couple of years," said Dr. Joette Giovinco with the FOX 13 News Medical Team.

In Pasco County, there are at least 33 Hepatitis A cases so far this year, up from a total of nine people sick in 2017.

There have been 36 illnesses in Hillsborough County in 2018, compared to 11 the year before.

Pinellas County is seeing the greatest surge.  At least 58 cases have been reported this year, a jump from zero in 2017. Health officials said the county is on track to have its highest number of Hepatitis A cases in more than a decade, but they're not sure what's causing the spike.

"I don't really have an explanation. We're working with the state, the Florida Department of Health, the Bureau of Epidemiology, to identify potential reasons why there are so many cases now with this particular population," Pinellas County Department of Health epidemiologist Rachel Ilic said.

The majority of people contracting Hepatitis A are homeless or IV drug users.

Experts say the disease is being spread by contaminated fecal matter, transmitted person to person through poor hygiene and close contact, and it doesn't take much to catch the illness.

"Whenever someone doesn't wash their hands after they go to the bathroom, it can be transmitted,” continued 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 was their hands, and that's how they become infected."

Most people with Hepatitis A are contagious before developing symptoms, which can take weeks to show up.

"Some of the symptoms you can see are fever, nausea, vomiting, and diarrheal. There can be dark-colored urine, light-colored stool, and there can be yellowing of the eyes and skin," Giovinco explained.

Because of the elevated number of sicknesses, the Department of Health in Pinellas County is offering the two-dose Hepatitis A vaccine for free. Children and adults living in the county can get the shot at any of the five DOH locations:

- St. Petersburg: 205 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. St. N.
- Pinellas Park: 6350 76th Ave. N.
- Mid-County (Largo): 8751 Ulmerton Rd.
- Clearwater: 310 N. Myrtle Ave.
- Tarpon Springs: 301 S. Disston Ave.