After two cases of hepatitis A, city offers vaccines

Christine Ferretti
The Detroit News

Detroit — The city’s health director is reaching out to southeast Detroit residents who may have come into contact with raw sewage and urging them to seek preventative treatment after two cases of hepatitis A were reported in a two-week period.

Dr. Abdul El-Sayed, who heads Detroit’s Department of Health, said during a Thursday news conference that both infected middle-aged men sought treatment for their symptoms and were hospitalized. One of the men lives in the Jefferson-Chalmers area and the other is a relative of a homeowner in the same neighborhood. Both cases were reported within a two-week span, with city health officials learning of the first case early last week and the most recent on Wednesday. The men are expected to make a full recovery, he said.

The hepatitis A cases come after heavy rains in July led to widespread sewage backups in the city’s District 4, which borders Grosse Pointe and the Detroit River, encompassing numerous neighborhoods including Ravendale, Victoria Park, East English Village, Jefferson-Chalmers and MorningSide.

The two men, El-Sayed said, had been involved in cleaning up basements in the southeast section of the city, but not necessarily in areas impacted by the July flooding. Although it’s hard to pinpoint when or how the men contracted the illness, he added, the department is mailing out letters to residents in the affected area.

“We don’t actually know how they got the disease. This happens at random every once in awhile, and you don’t know why. In this circumstance, they both have this exposure, so it’s warranted,” El-Sayed said. “There’s no reason to believe hepatitis A is going to spread, but we do know there are a number of folks who may have been exposed, and we want to do everything we can to make sure that the exposure is mitigated.”

The Detroit Water and Sewerage Department has aided in the cleanup of impacted basements following July 8 and Aug. 16 storms.

The water department says it “has taken historically unprecedented steps to ensure homes in the area impacted by recent storm activity are professionally cleaned and sanitized.”

Hepatitis A is a virus that affects the liver. El-Sayed said more than 99 percent of those who contract the virus make a complete recovery. It’s uncommon and transmitted via fecal-oral transmission, he said. Symptoms may include abdominal pain, nausea, fatigue, dark urine and yellow skin and eyes.

Hepatitis A has a lengthy incubation period, which sometimes can take several weeks, making it difficult to determine when exposure may have taken place.

El-Sayed is urging those who have come in contact with raw sewage over the past two months to seek medical attention from their primary care physician to discuss potential vaccination or treatment. For residents who don’t have a medical care provider, insurance or transportation, the health department is offering preventative vaccines for potential Hepatitis A exposure from Friday through Sept. 2 at either of its two clinics: Samaritan Center, 5555 Conner, or Family Place, 8726 Woodward.

If administered within two weeks of exposure, a vaccine can prevent the onset of the disease, health officials say.

Earlier this month, an employee at an upscale Birmingham restaurant was diagnosed with hepatitis A, according to the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services.

The unnamed Wayne County resident works at Social Kitchen and Bar at 225 E. Maple in Birmingham, officials said.

Detroit has set up an assistance hotline in partnership with United Way for Southeastern Michigan to address concerns over hepatitis A or potential health impacts from the flooding. For information, call 211.