Michigan’s Hepatitis A Outbreak

As you may have heard, since August of 2016 there has been an ongoing outbreak of Hepatitis A in Michigan, with 760 cases reported so far. Although the majority of cases have been in the eastern part of the state, including Detroit and Macomb County, there have been six confirmed cases in Calhoun County and four in Eaton County. Whenever the words “disease outbreak,” come up, there can be a tendency to either panic, or to shrug our shoulders and ignore the situation. But the best thing we can do is to take a moment to understand what’s happening and what we can do to stay healthy.

What is Hepatitis A?

Hepatitis A is liver disease caused by a virus.  Most major outbreaks of Hepatitus A in developed countries occur when people eat food or drink water that’s been contaminated. Large outbreaks of Hepatitis A are usually associated with a specific source of contamination, like a particular batch of tainted fruits or vegetables. The current outbreak in Michigan is being transmitted directly from person-to-person. The incubation period for the Hepatitis A virus is 14-28 days, which means a person can be contagious for a long time without knowing it. Symptoms of Hepatitis A include:

  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Stomach discomfort
  • Diarrhea
  • Fever
  • Yellowing of the skin and the whites of the eyes
  • Dark-colored urine

Symptoms can range from mild to severe, and full recovery may take up to several months. In rare cases, Hepatitis A can result in acute liver failure and even death.

How to prevent Hepatitis A

Get vaccinated. The Hepatitis A vaccine is safe and effective. Many individuals are not currently vaccinated as the vaccine did not become approved until 1992 and did not become administered as part of routine as part of childhood vaccination until around 2006.

Who should get vaccinated? 

  • Anyone who wants to be protected from Hepatitis A infection

Special populations who should especially consider vaccination include: 

  • Anyone living in close contact with an infected person
  • Anyone who is the sexual partner of an infected person
  • Anyone living with Hepatitis B, Hepatitis C, or another chronic liver disease, because this may increase the chances of severe liver complications
  • Anyone injecting illegal drugs
  • Anyone working with a high-risk population, such as in a prison
  • Anyone living or working in homeless shelters or transitional housing
  • Men who have sex with men
  • Anyone travelling to a country where Hepatitis A is prevalent

No one likes to hear that we have a disease outbreak in our community, but if we work together, we can limit  the spread of Hepatitis A and other viruses. As always, visit your primary care provider if you have any questions!



Photo Credit: Healthable.org