State declares hepatitis outbreak
Though local health care providers have said that hepatitis A hasn’t been much of an issue in the area, state Health Secretary Dr. Rachel Levine announced on Monday that Pennsylvania has declared an outbreak of the disease, with 171 cases in 36 counties since January 2018.
“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.”
Nate Wardle, spokesman for the department, said they didn’t have figures relative to Somerset and Cambria counties. He attributed that to low counts for certain counties in the state, particularly those without large cities.
Hepatitis A is a liver infection caused by the hepatitis A virus.
Hepatitis A is one of several types of viruses that can cause hepatitis or inflammation of the liver. Symptoms can be mild lasting several weeks or symptoms can be more severe lasting several months. Many people infected with hepatitis A do not experience any symptoms, according to the department’s website.
It is spread person to person after putting something in the mouth that has been contaminated with the feces of a person infected with hepatitis A. It is a vaccine-preventable illness.
Somerset Hospital officials couldn’t provide data on the number of hepatitis cases treated at the facility. But Dr. Jeanne Spencer, who works at the Family Health Clinic with Conemaugh Health System, said that there hasn’t been much of an outbreak in the area. But she acknowledged people must be on guard against it.
“For young children, they recommend getting immunized,” Spencer said. “That would protect them. Anyone with liver disease should get a hepatitis A vaccination. and anyone traveling to these troubled areas should get immunized. Good hand-washing makes a difference. If they have liver disease already, it can really hurt their liver if they get hepatitis A.”