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State officials say Hepatitis A outbreak has been "mitigated"

Hand washing

State officials have not identified any additional cases of a new virulent strain of Hepatitis A in the past 100 days, since an outbreak began three years ago in Michigan.

The outbreak resulted in 738 people being hospitalized (so far), and 30 deaths (so far).

Going 100 days without a new case is typically the factor leading officials to call an outbreak over.

But Jim Collins, the state's director of communicable diseases for MDHHS, says he's going to let others make that call. He says he is confident in calling the outbreak "mitigated." Meaning, he thinks the new strain is here to stay.

"Our new normal might be slightly elevated," he says. "I think it's going to enter into a natural occurrence in Michigan, that we're going to continue to see that strain periodically."

Collins says the average number of Hepatitis A cases in the five years before the outbreak (2010-2015) was 61 cases. Currently for 2019, the state has had a total of 70 cases, of all the variants of Hep A, including the newer variant.

Typically, the number of Hepatitis A cases rises in the late summer, and the current number is also slightly elevated, says Collins. The average number of Hepatitis A cases in the month of September in 2010 to 2015 was 6.5. This September, there were nine cases, of all types of Hepatitis A.

Collins says the outbreak has been mitigated primarily due to an intensive public education and vaccination campaign directed by the state and carried out by county health departments.

Since the beginning of the outbreak, 480,000 adults have received at least one dose of Hep A vaccine, and 430,000 of those were in high-risk communities: people who are homeless, jail and prison inmates, people who abuse opioid drugs, men who have sex with men, and people infected with Hepatitis C.

"That's a big number," Collins says.

The new variant is mainly spread directly from an infected person to another, as opposed to older variants, which are mainly spread from an infected person who contaminates food.

Thorough, frequent handwashing and getting vaccinated are the two main ways to control the spread of Hepatitis A.

Collins says the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is still collecting data to determine what could account for the unusually high rate of hospitalization (about 80%) for people infected with the Hep A variant associated with the outbreak. CDC officials visited Michigan twice in the past month, he says, to collect hospitalization data.

Most of the outbreak cases were in the city of Detroit (173) and Wayne County (164), with other large outbreaks in Macomb County (223) and Oakland County (120).

Tracy Samilton covers energy and transportation, including the auto industry and the business response to climate change for Michigan Public. She began her career at Michigan Public as an intern, where she was promptly “bitten by the radio bug,” and never recovered.
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