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August 01, 2019

Philadelphia declares public health emergency over Hepatitis A outbreak

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Hepatitis A outbreak in United States PA Images/PA Images

A vaccination syringe is pictured above. Hepatitis A infections have increased in the United States during the last three years despite an effective vaccine being available.

Philadelphia officials have declared a public health emergency over an outbreak of Hepatitis A that has become a growing concern in 2019.

Health Commissioner Thomas Farley announced the public health emergency Thursday afternoon, directing health care providers and agencies to vaccinate those at the highest risk of infection.

In most years, Philadelphia sees anywhere between two and six Hepatitis A infections. In 2019, the health department has already been notified of 154 cases.

Hepatitis A is an infection of the liver caused by a virus that spreads through the fecal-oral route. That can occur through personal contact or the consumption of contaminated food or water.

Most people who have a Hepatitis A infection recover without special treatment, but the infection is particularly dangerous for the elderly.

Vulnerable populations include people who use drugs, people experiencing homelessness, men who have sex with men, and people who are currently or were recently incarcerated, officials said.

In July 2018, the health department coordinated the vaccination of 1,775 people considered at-risk, and that more than 12,439 total Hepatitis A vaccinations have been given in the city. Te spread of the infection has prompted an emergency declaration to promote vaccination for tens of thousands of people who may be vulnerable.

“We don’t want anyone to contract Hepatitis A, and we have the ability to stop this outbreak," Farley said. "Now that we have a safe and effective vaccine, the most important action we can take is for everyone at high risk to be vaccinated. That means that we need help from health care providers and others who see these persons to offer the vaccine to them."

The public is advised to take efforts to protect themselves from Hepatitis A and other communicable diseases by washing their hands before eating, using condoms and talking to their regular health care provider about vaccines.

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