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Lucas Co. hepatitis A spike linked to Michigan outbreak

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A nurse loads a syringe with a vaccine against hepatitis at a free immunization clinic for students before the start of the school year, in Lynwood, California August, 27, 2013. Nurses are immunizing children in preparation for the first day of public school on September 3. The clinic offers the mandatory vaccinations for school children against diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis, polio, hepatitis B, MMR (measles, mumps, rubella) and chickenpox as well as some optional ones.

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Editor’s note: This story has been updated to reflect the time frame of the Monroe County’s Health Department’s vaccination recommendation window.

Southeast Michigan’s hepatitis A outbreak has been linked to an increase in cases in the Toledo area, according to the Toledo-Lucas County Health Department.

The department said Wednesday that officials in the past three months have seen an increase in hepatitis A cases in Lucas County, and that seven cases have been confirmed since August. The number of cases “continues to slowly climb,” the department said in a news release, and several cases were linked to Michigan’s outbreak.

That outbreak dates back to August, 2016, according to Michigan’s Department of Health & Human Services. As of April 4, 802 outbreak-related cases were reported in the state. Of those, 644 cases resulted in hospitalizations and 25 cases were fatal.

Shannon Lands, spokesperson for the health department, said that Lucas County’s seven cases since August matched the total for the year prior, and four of the cases were identified recent, prompting the department to notify the community. Health officials were able to link the Michigan outbreak with the recent Lucas County cases because the strains of hepatitis A matched.

Monroe County has recorded 17 cases, and the Monroe County Health Department issued a warning in March after a food handler at a restaurant there was diagnosed with hepatitis A. The agency urged anyone who ate or drank items from Olga’s Kitchen, 2072 N. Telegraph Road, between Feb. 24 and March 14 to get a hepatitis A vaccine.

“We like many restaurants in the last two years had one confirmed and isolated case of an employee with [h]epatitis A,” Mike Kosloski, Olga’s Kitchen vice president of operations, said in a prepared statement. “We responded to this with proactive and swift action. We’ve resumed operations for the past three weeks and look forward to continuing to serve our guests.”

 Employees at a Tim Hortons restaurant at 404 S. Monroe St. were also diagnosed with hepatitis A in late 2017.

Michigan’s outbreak started within the homeless population and drug users, then spread to food service workers, Ms. Lands said. Health officials have also identified cases among men who have sex with men. While frequent hand-washing and other standard hygienic practices are the best practices for the general population, those in communities vulnerable to hepatitis A should get vaccinated, Ms. Lands said.

Health Commissioner Eric Zgodzinski said that, while the number of cases in Lucas County are low so far, the department is preparing in case hepatitis A spreads in northwest Ohio. So far, it appears those in Lucas County who have contracted hepatitis A have done so in Michigan. 

“We don’t have an outbreak per [the Ohio Department of Health] here,” Mr. Zgodzinski said, “but we are concerned."

Hepatitis A is a liver disease that can be spread by ingesting food or water contaminated by feces or through sexual contact. Symptoms, which can appear 1-2 weeks after contracting the hepatitis virus, include fatigue, fever, nausea and vomiting, jaundice, dark urine, pale stool, and joint pain.

People at higher risk for contracting the disease are:

● Those who are homeless or use transient housing.

● Illicit drug users, including those who use injection and noninjection drugs.

● Men who have sex with men, as well as sex workers and their clients.

● Those incarcerated or recently incarcerated.

● Those with underlying liver disease.

● People traveling to countries where hepatitis A is common.

Those seeking further information can call the health department at 419-213-4216, or visit lucascountyhealth.com.

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