Health

State Hepatitis A Outbreak Seems To Be On The Decline

Hepatitis A vaccination efforts have targeted county jails, homeless shelters and substance abuse clinics. 
Hepatitis A vaccination efforts have targeted county jails, homeless shelters and substance abuse clinics. 
Credit Matthias Rietschel / Associated Press
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State public health officials say a hepatitis A outbreak that started last year seems to be slowing down.

More than 650 people have been diagnosed with the liver disease since last year, but new cases are on the decline.

That’s because of efforts to get people immunized, said Cherie Drenzek, an epidemiologist with the Georgia Department of Public Health.

“The reason that we actually got where we’re going was vaccine outreach and vaccinating the population,” she said during the agency’s monthly board meeting Tuesday.

State public health officials said people who use drugs, who are homeless or who are incarcerated are at highest risk for contracting hepatitis A. Men who have sex with men are also vulnerable.

That’s why vaccination efforts have targeted county jails, homeless shelters and substance abuse clinics.

Drenzek said the state has also spread the word about immunization through the social networking app Grindr and has outreach events planned at the upcoming Atlanta Pride Festival.

She also said the Georgia outbreak has been smaller than those in neighboring states. Tennessee and Florida are in the midst of their own outbreaks — more than 2,600 cases have been reported in each state.

Still, seven have died in Georgia of complications from hepatitis A, many of them with preexisting conditions, such as HIV.

“Death typically associated with hepatitis A infection is not common, [but] because of the existing vulnerability of this population, we’re seeing more deaths,” she said.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said nearly 27,000 cases of the disease have been reported in 30 states since 2016, including 274 deaths.

Hepatitis A is highly contagious and is spread through contact with feces or contaminated food or water.