Health officials probe hepatitis A outbreak in SE Mich.

Charles E. Ramirez
The Detroit News

State health officials said Friday they and local public health departments are investigating an outbreak of hepatitis A cases in Southeast Michigan that’s resulted in 10 deaths.

Between Aug. 1, 2016 and June 26, 2017, there have been nearly 190 cases of hepatitis A confirmed in Detroit as well as Macomb, Oakland, Wayne and St. Clair counties, according to the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services. The number of cases is up ten-fold from the same period a year before.

Hepatitis A is a highly contagious viral liver disease that can sometimes cause liver failure and death.

The state agency said no common source of the outbreak such as contaminated food or water has been identified. It also said transmission appears to be person-to-person through illicit drug use, sexual activity and close contact.

It also said the ongoing outbreak is a significant public health threat to vulnerable community members in Southeast Michigan, the state agency said.

The ages of those infected ranges from 21- to 86-years-old. Two-thirds of the cases are men and nearly nine out of 10 cases result in hospitalization, officials said.

Nearly half of the cases have a history of substance abuse, 20 percent are also infected with hepatitis C, and six more recent cases have been incarcerated, according to the state health department.

“Hepatitis A is a vaccine-preventable disease,” Dr. Eden Wells, chief medical executive for the state health department, said in a statement. “And while the hepatitis A vaccine is recommended as part of the routine childhood vaccination schedule, most adults have not been vaccinated against the hepatitis A virus and may be susceptible to the illness.”

People with hepatitis A are infectious for two weeks before symptoms appear. Symptoms include jaundice, fever, fatigue, loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, dark urine and light-colored stools.

Wells said the agency recommends the following at-risk people get a hepatitis vaccine:

■ People who use injection and non-injection illegal drugs.

■ People who participate in commercial exchange of sexual practices.

■ Close personal contacts of hepatitis A patients.

■ Men who have sex with men.

■ People with liver diseases, such as hepatitis B or hepatitis C. Persons with chronic liver disease have an elevated risk of death from liver failure.

■ Any one concerned about getting hepatitis A.

For information or to get a hepatitis A vaccine, call your local city or county health department.

■ Macomb County Health Department, (586) 469-5372

■ Oakland County Health Division, (800) 848-5533

■ Clair County Health Department, (810) 987-5300

■ Wayne County Communicable Disease Unit, (734) 727-7078

■ Detroit Health Department (313) 876-4000