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Orange County Seeing Surge in Hepatitis A Cases

Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.
Daylina Miller/Health News Florida
The Florida Channel
Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.

Orange County is seeing a huge spike in hepatitis A cases.

Statewide, hepatitis A cases were three times higher than in 2018 than the five-year average. But in Orange County, there were 123 cases in 2018 — more than 55 times the normal amount of cases. And in 2019 so far, we’re already at 15 times the five-year average of cases.

Alvina Chu, the epidemiology program manager for Orange County health department, said hepatitis A historically came from abroad.

“So people would go travel to another place and get Hepatitis A and bring it back home to us in the United States, but recently the outbreak that’s occurring in Orange County is spread primarily from person to person,” Chu said.

In November 2018, there was an outbreak at the Morimoto Asia restaurant in Disney Springs. So far in 2019, there have been two outbreaks in Orange County: One was at Hoop-Dee-Doo in Disney Spring, and the other was at the Orange County Jail. More than 2,000 inmates were vaccinated because of that outbreak.

Hepatitis A attacks the liver, and can be prevented with a vaccine. The primary transmission route is fecal to oral – most commonly spread from people not washing their hands before eating or cooking.

“One of the classic signs is the jaundice, which indicates involvement of the liver,” Chu said. “And so that’s yellowing of the skin and eyes. A couple of other things that are different are clay-colored stools and dark urine. And people report extreme abdominal pain.”

Florida is one of more than a dozen states experiencing a Hepatitis A outbreak. Health departments across the state have been offering free vaccines to at-risk populations. Most of the people infected are people who use injection and non-injection drugs, and people who are homeless.

Health News Florida reporter Abe Aboraya works for WMFE in Orlando. He started writing for newspapers in high school. After graduating from the University of Central Florida in 2007, he spent a year traveling and working as a freelance reporter for the Seattle Times and the Seattle Weekly, and working for local news websites in the San Francisco Bay area. Most recently Abe worked as a reporter for the Orlando Business Journal. He comes from a family of health care workers.