Column: Now is time for Hep A vaccine

Eden Wells

Michigan is experiencing the largest person-to-person hepatitis A outbreak in its history. Those with a history of injection and non-injection drug use, homelessness or transient housing and incarceration, and men who have sex with men are thought to be at greater risk in this outbreak.

From Aug. 1, 2016 to March 14, 2018, more than 780 cases of hepatitis A were reported in Michigan, with more than 80 percent of them being in the southeast Michigan region. For perspective, there were 327 hepatitis A cases reported from 2011-15.

Hepatitis A is a serious, highly contagious liver disease caused by the hepatitis A virus (HAV). HAV is found in the feces (poop) of people with hepatitis A. You can get hepatitis A by eating contaminated food or water, during sex or just by living with an infected person. Illness can appear 15-50 days after exposure and you can be sick for several weeks. In some cases, people can die.

Symptoms may include nausea and vomiting, belly pain, fatigue, fever, loss of appetite, yellowing of the skin and eyes, dark urine, pale-colored feces and joint pain.

However, adults, particularly those with other underlying liver diseases, are at higher risk of severe or fatal infection. The good news is you can protect yourself.

Hepatitis A can affect anyone. Frequent hand washing with soap and warm water after using the bathroom, changing a diaper or before preparing food can help prevent the spread of hepatitis A.

However, the best way to protect yourself is to get vaccinated. The hepatitis A vaccine is very effective.

A state appropriation of more than $7 million at the end of 2017 has provided funds to local health departments for staffing and outreach as well as vaccines. Mobile vaccination clinics at venues popular with the MSM population as well as clinics at homeless shelters, local health departments and other community organizations are being offered to help bring this hepatitis A outbreak to an end.

Since August 2016, MDHHS has provided nearly 100,000 doses of the hepatitis A vaccine for outbreak prevention and control statewide, and is prepared to continue offering vaccine until this outbreak is over.

Anyone who is in the high-risk population is urged to get their hepatitis A vaccine as soon as possible. Information on where to get vaccinated is available at Michigan.gov/hepatitisAoutbreak.

If you have questions or concerns about hepatitis A, please talk to your doctor, call your local health department or visit Michigan.gov/hepatitisAoutbreak.

Dr. Eden Wells is chief medical executive of the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services.