Ohio hepatitis A outbreak nears one year, state gives more funds

The rate of new hepatitis A cases is slowing down in Montgomery and Butler counties as the statewide outbreak nears its one-year mark and the state makes new funds available for public health departments.

As of June 3, there have been 2,997 confirmed cases in Ohio since the statewide outbreak was declared last June, with patients ranging from one-year-old to 89-years old. Those cases includes 10 deaths and 1,796 hospitalizations.

Montgomery and Butler counties have some of the highest case counts in the state, with 408 confirmed cases since the start of the outbreak in Butler and 283 in Montgomery as of June 3, according to Ohio Department of Health.

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Jenny Bailer, Butler County General Health District health commissioner, said the county is now seeing around two to four cases per week compared to around 25 cases per week earlier in the outbreak.

However, in past years the health department might not see a hepatitis A case all year.

“We’re not out of the woods yet,” Bailer said.

Ohio Department of Health Director Dr. Amy Acton recently announced a one-time commitment of $650,000 in state funding to be shared with local health departments to combat the ongoing hepatitis A outbreak in the state.

“It’s a new day in public health in Ohio as these funds are targeted to help local health departments prevent and control hepatitis A through education, surveillance, and vaccination of high-risk groups in our state,” Acton said in a statement. “We must work together at the state and local level to protect and improve the health of all Ohioans.”

Vaccination is the best protection against the spread of hepatitis A and public health departments have been bringing vaccine services off site to populations at high risk of the virus, such as people who are homeless or incarcerated.

Hepatitis A 
There were 2,997 Ohio outbreak cases as of June 3. 
Source: Ohio Department of Health

Montgomery County public health officials have given out 3,438 hepatitis A vaccines as of May 17. Butler County public health officials have given 2,562 vaccinations to people at high risk as of May 20.

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Bailer said the department staff have put in extra hours doing outreach and vaccines in response to the outbreak and that has cost thousands of dollars. The state money will help the department recoup some of those costs, she said.

Hepatitis A is a vaccine-preventable liver disease that usually spreads when a person ingests fecal matter with the virus — even in microscopic amounts — from contact with objects, food or drinks contaminated by the stool of an infected person. Hepatitis A can also be spread from close personal contact with an infected person, such as through sex.

Symptoms of hepatitis A include fatigue, low appetite, stomach pain, nausea, clay-colored stools and jaundice. People with hepatitis A can experience mild illness lasting a few weeks to severe illness lasting several months.

Ohio Department of Health declared a statewide hepatitis A outbreak in June 2018, with outbreaks also in several states across the U.S., including neighboring states of Indiana, Kentucky, Michigan and West Virginia.

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