As the number of hepatitis A cases grow in Pennsylvania, health officials have declared the situation an outbreak.
Pennsylvania Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine said that there have been 171 hepatitis A cases in 36 counties, including Bucks County, since January 2018.
Health officials said hepatitis A is a liver infection that can be spread person to person after placing something in the mouth that has been contaminated with the feces of a person infected with hepatitis A. The virus is preventable with a vaccine.
Data from the Pennsylvania Department of Health for Bucks County shows there have between one and 10 cases in hepatitis A since last January.
“The counties hardest hit by this outbreak are Philadelphia and Allegheny, but we have seen an increase of cases throughout much of the state,” Levine said. “We are taking this action now to be proactive in our response to treating Pennsylvanians suffering from this illness and prevent it from spreading. The best way to prevent hepatitis A is through vaccination.”
By declaring an outbreak, Pennsylvania becomes eligible for federal funds to buy additional vaccine.
Health officials said people most at risk of contracting hepatitis A are those with contact with a person with the virus, those who use illicit drugs through injection, and men who have sex with other men. Hepatitis A infections can last several months.
“It’s hard to know for sure why we are experiencing an outbreak of hepatitis A,” Levine said. “We do know that the commonwealth has seen an increase of diseases like hepatitis C and HIV because of the opioid epidemic.”
Health officials in the state said they have released an updated website in light of the outbreak.
Anyone who thinks they may have been exposed to hepatitis A should contact their physician for treatment. Those who are uninsured or underinsured can contact 1-877-PA-HEALTH.