Wolf announces funding for Hepatitis A vaccines amidst outbreak

Governor Wolf has announced that the state of Pennsylvania will provide $50,000 in funding to purchase vaccines to slow the spread of hepatitis A.

Pennsylvania and neighboring state New Jersey are currently in the midst of a hepatitis A outbreak, which was declared in Pennsylvania in May.

Hepatitis A is a liver infection caused by the hepatitis A virus, which is spread person to person after putting something in the mouth that has been contaminated with the feces of a person infected with the virus.

“We must do everything in our power to prevent hepatitis A from further spreading across the commonwealth,” said Governor Tom Wolf. “This funding will help us provide vaccines and outreach to the communities hardest hit by this outbreak.”

Although Philadelphia and Bucks counties are seeing the majority of hepatitis A, cases are continuing to increase throughout much of the state.

From January 2018 until early August of 2019, Pennsylvania has seen 376 outbreak related hepatitis A cases and seven deaths. The case count for 2019 is nearly nine times the number expected based on historical data.

Pennsylvania’s Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine said that the best way to prevent the spread of hepatitis A is through vaccination and washing your hands regularly.

Symptoms of Hepatitis A- fever, loss of appetite, stomach pain and jaundice, can be mild and last several weeks. However, more severe infections can last several months and be fatal.

The Department of Health recommends that those who think they may have been exposed to or are infected with the virus, to contact their physician for further testing. While there is no treatment, doctors can monitor and treat symptoms.

State health officials declare hepatitis A outbreak

Pennsylvania has declared an outbreak of hepatitis A.

The number of hepatitis A cases reported since January of 2018 is 171, according to the May 20 announcement by the state’s Department of Health.

The counties hardest hit by the outbreak are Philadelphia and Allegheny, but cases have been seen in 36 counties throughout the state, according to Dr. Rachel Levine, Pennsylvania’s secretary of health.

The Lehigh Valley and Berks County, however, do not appear to be experiencing an increase in hepatitis A cases, based on information received by Lehigh Valley Business.

“St. Luke’s sees hepatitis A cases from time to time,” said Samuel Kennedy, media relations representative for St. Luke’s University Health Network. “At the moment, the number of cases we are seeing is not above our normal baseline.”

Tower Health in Reading is also not reporting an above-normal number of cases.

“From January 2018 through the end of April of 2019, we only saw a total of eight cases,” said Marie Keim, Director of Epidemiology and Infection Prevention at Tower Health. “This is about normal.”

Keim explained that hepatitis A is a liver infection that has a fecal/oral spread, meaning it is spread when infected stool gets into the mouth of an uninfected person. This can happen when an infected person does not have good bathroom hygiene, and prepares food that other people eat.

Symptoms of hepatitis A can be mild and last several weeks, according to the Department of Health. More severe infections can last several months. Many people infected do not experience any symptoms. Symptoms can include fever, loss of appetite, nausea and vomiting, stomach pain and jaundice.

While there is no cure for hepatitis A, symptoms can be managed and most people make a full recovery, according to Keim.

“We are taking this action now to be proactive in our response to treating Pennsylvanians suffering from this illness and prevent it from spreading,” said secretary of health Levine. “The best way to prevent hepatitis A is through vaccination.”

Dr. Levine noted that Pennsylvania’s neighboring states of Ohio and West Virginia have seen more than 2,000 cases since January 2018. By declaring an outbreak, Pennsylvania is eligible for federal funds to purchase additional vaccines if it is needed.

“It’s hard to know for sure why we are experiencing an outbreak of hepatitis A,” Dr. Levine said. “We do know that the commonwealth has seen an increase of diseases like hepatitis C and HIV because of the opioid epidemic.”

People who use injected illicit drugs are at increased risk of contracting Hepatitis A, reports the Department of Health, as well as those who are homeless, and men who have sex with men.

Enhanced hepatitis A information is available on the state’s Department of Health website, health.pa.gov.