Hepatitis A now a Public Health Emergency in Philadelphia

PHILADELPHIA — The city of Philadelphia has declared a Public Health Emergency to address the skyrocketing rise in cases of hepatitis A.

The Philadelphia Department of Public Health has confirmed 154 cases of acute hepatitis A infection this year as of Aug. 1, and is investigating several additional reports.

The department also reports,

“Since introduction of the hepatitis A vaccine as a routine immunization for children, the city typically receives anywhere from 2 to 9 reports each year.”

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Hepatitis A is a contagious liver disease caused by the hepatitis A virus. It can survive on surfaces for several months.

The proclamation from Health Commissioner Dr. Thomas A. Farley includes instructing health workers in Philadelphia to vaccinate people at risk, vaccinate people who have close contact with people who are infected, advise people with hepatitis A on how to prevent transmission, and report acute cases.

It is usually spread when the virus enters the body through the mouth from contact with objects, food, or drinks that have been contaminated by the feces of an infected person.

Hepatitis A can spread through improper handwashing after a bowel movement, changing diapers or cleaning up the stool of an infected person, or through sexual activities such as oral-anal contact with a person infected with the virus.

It can also be spread by eating food or drinking water contaminated with the virus, including frozen and undercooked food.

People who have the hepatitis A infection can spread it to others two weeks before, and one week after, developing symptoms — but some people infected with the virus do not have any symptoms.

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People can lower their risk of contracting hepatitis A by washing their hands frequently with soap and warm water, and taking precautions during sexual contact including oral, but the best way to prevent hepatitis A infection is to get vaccinated.

The Department of Public Health reports it has been conducting extensive outreach to raise awareness, and provide hepatitis A vaccine and personal hygiene items, to high-risk populations and potentially exposed persons, since last summer.

People who think they have hepatitis A should contact their doctor.

Hepatitis A was actually the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s “Disease of the Week” for the week that started last Thursday, July 26. Click here for more information, including a quiz.

The CDC has a lot more statistics on hepatitis A here.

The Philadelphia Department of Public Health has frequently asked questions about hepatitis A here.

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