Hepatitis A outbreak continues affecting Michigan for third year

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LANSING (WJRT) (9/20/2019) - The Hepatitis A outbreak in Michigan and other states has entered its third year and state health officials warn it still isn't fully contained.

The outbreak started in August 2016, leading to 920 illnesses and 30 deaths in the state. Eighty percent of the people who contracted Hepatitis A in Michigan in the past three years was hospitalized.

The outbreak has been worse in other Midwest states. According to The Center for Disease Control and Prevention, Ohio has seen 3,274 cases, Indiana has seen 2,043 cases and Illinois has seen 153 cases.

The national toll has been nearly 25,000 cases and 244 deaths.

The number of new cases in Michigan has slowed in recent months, according to the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services. But officials are still urging the public to remain vigilant and take precautions.

Some of the most recent cases have been reported in Kalkaska, Grand Traverse and Antrim counties in the northern Lower Peninsula. State health officials say that strain has been circulating in other states.

The state health department says 52 percent of Michigan residents with Hepatitis A have battled substance abuse, including some of the recent northern Michigan cases.

“Although Michigan has not seen the number of cases of hepatitis A that we have during the height of the outbreak, it is essential that people with risk factors for hepatitis A continue to be vaccinated," said Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, Michigan's chief medical executive and chief deputy director for health at MDHHS.

Hepatitis A is spread from person to person through fecal matter, most often from not properly washing hands before touching food. The virus also can spread through food, water or close contact with an infected person.

State health officials are urging the public to get the Hepatitis A vaccine -- especially intravenous drug users, the homeless, prisoners and men sexually active with other men -- along with following proper handwashing techniques.

People also should avoid sharing towels, toothbrushes and eating utensils to prevent the spread of Hepatitis A, according to state health officials.