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$500K helping Mich. battle hepatitis A

Associated Press

Lansing — Health departments around Michigan are getting a share of $500,000 in grants to help combat the state’s record “person-to-person” hepatitis A outbreak, state authorities say.

The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services said the funding includes $20,000 each to 25 county health departments toward increasing vaccination outreach to high-risk populations.

Some 797 cases of hep A have been diagnosed in Michigan since the start of the outbreak in August 2016, per the state health department. About 80 percent of those diagnosed have been hospitalized, and 25 people have died.

“This has been the largest person-to-person hepatitis A outbreak in Michigan’s history, with more than 780 cases,” said Dr. Eden Wells, MDHHS chief medical executive. “Increasing vaccination outreach to high-risk populations across the state is essential to stopping the spread of hepatitis A in Michigan.”

Metro Detroit, Michigan’s most populous area, has been hit the hardest by the outbreak, accounting for 625 of the 797 diagnosed cases, or 78 percent.

Neither the city of Detroit or county health departments in Wayne, Oakland or Macomb counties received grants in this cycle, because they’ve already received funding. Huron, Ingham, Lapeer, Livingston, Sanilac, St. Clair and Washtenaw also have reported cases.

In March, the Monroe County Health Department said it had confirmed a case in a food handler at an Olga’s Kitchen and advised patrons who ate there to watch for symptoms and be vaccinated.

Counties with two or more hepatitis A cases are considered part of the state’s “outbreak jurisdiction.” The counties receiving this round of grants are outside of the outbreak jurisdiction, meaning they’ve had fewer than that.

A list of health departments getting the new funding is posted online. The state said that all departments now have received funding to fight hepatitis A.

The money is part of a $7.1 million appropriation the Legislature approved in 2017 to address the hepatitis A outbreak. Among other uses of the funds, county and city jails in Metro Detroit have vaccinated inmates and Corrections staffers.

“Since August 2016, MDHHS has provided nearly 100,000 doses of the hepatitis A vaccine for outbreak prevention and control statewide,” wrote Dr. Eden Wells, chief medical executive for the state in a recent Detroit News op-ed.

Hepatitis A is a contagious liver disease caused by a virus. The disease can range from a mild illness to a severe sickness that can last several months. Symptoms can appear similar to the flu, including abdominal pain, nausea, diarrhea and fever.