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Detroit goes public with Hepatitis A cases linked to sewage

A repeatedly sewage-flooded basement on Detroit's east side.
Sarah Cwiek
Michigan Radio
A repeatedly sewage-flooded basement on Detroit's east side.

Two recent cases of Hepatitis A in Detroit are sparking a larger public health response.

That’s because the people who tested positive for the virus had both recently dealt with basement sewage backups, which have plagued an area of Detroit’s east side during rainfall this summer.

It’s not entirely clear how they got Hepatitis A, but contact with sewage is a known path of transmission.

But just in case, the Detroit health department will offer the vaccinations for free or at low cost to all Detroiters affected by the recent flooding over the next week.

Health department director Dr. Abdul El-Sayed says that for a period after infection, Hepatitis A can still be prevented with a vaccination.

“We realized that for some folks who very recently have come in contact, we’re within that period. So we wanted to make that vaccination treatment available,” he said.

El-Sayed encourages everyone who dealt with the recent basement flooding to get the shot from one of two city health department clinics, or from their own doctor.

In general, people should avoid any contact with sewage-infested water, and throw out any items that have come in contact with it.

The Detroit Water and Sewerage Department has helped some affected residents get contractors to clean and sanitize their basements, though hundreds more are still waiting after a first major flood event occurred July 8.

Hepatitis A is rarely serious or fatal, but can cause serious problems for older people, or those with a pre-existing liver condition.

In this case, both people infected were middle-aged men. They sought treatment, were hospitalized, and are expected to make full recoveries.

Sarah Cwiek joined Michigan Public in October 2009. As our Detroit reporter, she is helping us expand our coverage of the economy, politics, and culture in and around the city of Detroit.
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