The Spread of Hepatitis A Is Under Control, Say Florida Health Officials

Thanks to efforts for vaccination and education, the Florida Surgeon General Scott Rivkees says the spread of hepatitis A is being slowed down to a controllable pace here in Florida. A declaration of public health emergency due to the rapid spread of the disease last August sent the Department of Health in Florida and the public into a frenzy after it was revealed a case of hepatitis A was diagnosed in the Sunshine State. A total of 3,200 cases of Hepatitis A have been reported in the state this year.

The Florida Department of Health said 33 new hepatitis A cases were reported last week. This brings the total this year to 3,221 as of this Saturday. The disease has been controlled considerably despite numbers continuing to rise, however. The pace has slowed down from this spring and summer’s number of 90 cases per week to 30 cases per week now.

The Florida Surgeon General also works as secretary of the Department of Health. On December 12, Rivkees told The News Service of Florida, “This is something we are constantly working on. I think what we are seeing now is, as we are vaccinating more individuals the number of cases in those areas is going down,” 

Since August 1st, Rivkees and a team of part-time employees have overseen an effort to combat the spread through vaccinations at a cost of $2.9 million. Alberto Moscoso, a Department spokesperson, said the agency is projected to spend $12 million on vaccinations and part-time staff by June 30 (2020(, which marks the end of the current budget year. Surgeon General Rivkess has also asked the Florida Legislature to set aside another $9 million to continue to vaccinate at-risk populations (homeless people and drug users, according to state data).

The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says about 491,000 at-risk people in Florida are vulnerable to being infected with hepatitis A. Around 80% (392,000) of at-risk people would need to be vaccinated in order to stop the spread of the disease. Rivkees says these high-risk populations have been dealt with accordingly and is proud of his and the counties efforts to try to contain the disease as best they can. “Every county is different in terms of their demographics and in terms of their populations. But the general approach is absolutely the same: Go after the high-risk populations,” Rivkees said, adding, “I’m extraordinarily proud of our county health departments that have taken a major role in addressing this virus and the many partners we’ve engaged in helping us do this.”

Hepatitis A is a vaccine-preventable liver disease caused by the hepatitis A virus. It spreads from contaminated food or water. It is usually transmitted person-to-person through the fecal-oral route.  It also can be spread through sex and intravenous drug use. Symptoms include fatigue, nausea, loss of appetite, abdominal pain and low-grade fever. The condition clears up on its own in a month or two with adequate rest and hydration.

There are different organizations working with health officials to entice homeless people to be vaccinated. Incentives, bus passes and socks are being offered to assist the homeless with transportation to and from the homeless shelters, jails and detention centers. These facilities are being used to carry out these vaccinations.

There are several counties helping in the effort to contain the spread of hepatitis A. Pasco, Pinellas, Volusia and Orange Counties have all been able to vaccinate 68% of their at-risk populations. These counties are in the top 10 with the highest hepatitis A infection rates in the State. Vaccinations are being administered by other local health-care providers along with county health departments. Over 292, 843 vaccinations have been administered as of Saturday.

The tireless efforts by the health department’s officials and local healthcare providers will hopefully mean disease prevention and control for the residents of the great State of Florida soon.