Published on: October 18, 2021
What is Hepatitis A?
Hepatitis A is a highly contagious short-term liver infection caused by the Hepatitis A virus (CDC). While the infection attacks the liver, the virus does not cause any long-term liver damage. High-risk patients who are older or have underlying health problems are at risk for liver failure or death due Hepatitis A. By understanding how to identify Hepatitis A, how it spreads, who is the most at-risk, and how to protect yourself, Hepatitis A outbreaks in Tampa Bay can continue to decrease.
How to Identify Hepatitis A?
Hepatitis A is often mistaken as the flu since they share similar mild symptoms. Here is a list of symptoms that may help differentiate Hepatitis A from the flu:
- Sudden onset of fever
- Yellow-tinged skin or eyes (Jaundice)
- Dark Urine
- Clay-colored stool
- Gastric issues
- Loss of appetite
- Abdominal Pain, especially near the liver
- Joint pain
Even if you are not experiencing symptoms but were exposed to someone with the Hepatitis A virus, you can still spread it. The infected person can remain asymptomatic for about 2 weeks before symptoms appear. If you are experiencing any of the listed symptoms, call your doctor.
How Does it Spread?
Hepatitis A is commonly spread via the fecal-oral route through contact with contaminated feces. It is extremely uncommon for Hepatitis A to be transmitted through the blood. Whether in close contact or sexual contact with an infected person, Hepatitis A is highly contagious and spreads rapidly in these close conditions.
Hepatitis A is also spread via ingesting contaminated food or water. Since restaurants handle food, it is possible to contract the virus through an infected food handler. To prevent outbreaks within a restaurant, food handlers have specific standards for sanitation and dealing with uncooked foods.
Who is Most At-Risk for Contracting Hepatitis A?
Like any highly contagious virus, there will be some people at a higher risk for contracting Hepatitis A. The people who are most at-risk for contracting Hepatitis A are:
- People with chronic liver disease
- People living in areas with one or more recorded outbreaks within the last 5 years
- Daycare center and institutional care workers
- International travelers
- People who experience homelessness
- Men who have sexual contact with men
- People with poor hygiene practices
- People with human immunodeficiency virus infection
- Users of injection drugs
If you or someone you know falls into any of these categories, take preventative matters like washing your hands and consider vaccination. According to the CDC, the best way to prevent contracting the virus is by receiving a safe and effective vaccine (CDC).
Rise in Hepatitis A Outbreaks in Tampa
The Tampa Bay area showed a massive spike in Hepatitis A infections in 2019. From 2016 to 2019, Florida faced more than a 500% increase in cases (Florida Health). The virus spread rapidly in the restaurant industry. Due to infected food service workers not properly washing their hands while handling food, Hepatitis A was able to contaminate entire restaurants.
According to ABC Action News, “Florida health bosses told the public about only 20% of Hepatitis A cases in the food services statewide, according to the state’s surgeon general, which uncovered dozens of restaurant workers testing positive for Hepatitis A,” (WFTS Tampa Bay). The secrecy proved to do only more damage to public health and safety as cases increased. With the coronavirus lockdowns in 2020 and part of 2021, Hepatitis A cases have significantly decreased. People have spent more time indoors, away from people and restaurants. As lockdowns are lifted and tourism opens, people must not forget about protecting themselves against other highly contagious viruses like Hepatitis A.
Hepatitis A Tampa | How to Protect Yourself and Others?
Florida’s 2019 outbreak of Hepatitis A decreased greatly due to the coronavirus pandemic and the lockdowns that followed. While the coronavirus pandemic brought more isolation, places are slowly starting to open again. With restaurants returning to normal capacity and tourism increasing again, it is important to know how to protect yourself and others from spreading Hepatitis A. The most efficient way to prevent contracting or spreading Hepatitis A is through its CDC-approved vaccine.
Vaccinations are available from The Florida Department of Health in your county (DOH). You can find a vaccine near you by talking to your health provider, calling the County Health Department (CHD), or using VaccineFinder.org (Florida Health). Whether you decide on the vaccine or not, it is crucial to practice good personal hygiene by washing your hands!
About Infectious Disease Associates of Tampa Bay
Infectious Disease Associates of Tampa Bay (IDATB) provides high-quality healthcare services for patients in the Tampa Bay metro area. If you or someone who lives with you would like to test for an infectious disease, then IDATB is here to help. With over 30 years of experience, IDATB has been treating Floridians with infectious diseases and provides lab draws in-house for any necessary testing. If you have any questions or concerns about infectious diseases or Hepatitis A, then please call IDATB at 813-251-8444.