'Extremely serious': Health officials across Michigan bracing for Hepatitis A to spread

MID-MICHIGAN (WJRT) (11/01/2017) - A deadly Hepatitis A outbreak confined mainly to the Detroit area and the Thumb region has health officials across the state concern about it spreading elsewhere.

A dose of the Hepatitis A outbreak.

So far, 18 deaths have been blamed on the outbreak and more than 400 confirmed cases have been reported. Michigan's Emergency Operations Center in Lansing was activated this week to help manage the crisis.

Hepatitis A cases have been reported in 11 Michigan counties: Huron, Ingham, Lapeer, Livingston, Macomb, Monroe, Oakland, Sanilac, St. Clair, Washtenaw and Wayne.

The illness is spread from person to person or through contaminated food. Symptoms include abdominal pain, nausea, diarrhea, fever and jaundice.

"This is extremely serious, yes," said Joel Strasz, the health officer for the Bay County Health Department.

He believes that, while the outbreak of Hepatitis A is confined mainly to Southeast Michigan and Thumb region, it will continue spreading elsewhere.

"It's really a matter not of 'if' but 'when,' and the more people that we can get vaccinated beforehand the less that we will have to worry about if someone does comes and contract Hepatitis A here," Strasz said.

He is urging people to do what they can now to prevent themselves from contracting the disease.

"There is a vaccine that's available to prevent this and we are encouraging all folks to get vaccinated for it, especially some of the target groups where this particular strain has hit pretty hard," Strasz said.

Public health officials are urging vaccinations for people most at risk of infection, including people with a history of substance abuse, gay men, food handlers, health care workers and people with liver disease.

"It's positively associated with hygiene, that you know when folks get fecal contamination on their hands and touch their mouths or eat food that's been contaminated, they can come down with Hep A," Strasz said.

Patti Bergstrom has seen firsthand the effects of Hepatitis A and is heeding all the warnings. Her mother contracted the disease in the 1970s after receiving a tainted blood transfusion after a hip surgery.

That personal connection to the potentially deadly diseaseand her role as manager for Blackstone's Restaurant in downtown Flint is what caused Bergstrom to take notice of reports about the Hepatitis A outbreak.

"It did scare me," she said.

Bergstrom has reminded her staff to continue following the restaurant's commitment to safety.

"Anytime you're handling food, you have to be super cautious," she said.

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