No hepatitis A cases have been reported in tri-county

Pennsylvania Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine announced this week that the state has declared an outbreak of hepatitis A, with 171 cases reported in 36 counties since January.

The state Department of Health says no cases have been reported in Venango, Clarion, Forest or Crawford counties, and fewer than 10 cases have been reported in both Butler and Mercer counties.

“The counties hardest hit by this outbreak are Philadelphia and Allegheny, but we have seen an increase of cases throughout much of the state,” Levine said in a press release. “We are taking this action now to be proactive in our response to treating Pennsylvanians suffering from this illness and prevent it from spreading. The best way to prevent hepatitis A is through vaccination.”

Hepatitis A is a liver infection that is caused by the hepatitis A virus. The health department says it is spread from person to person after putting something in the mouth that has been contaminated with the feces of an infected person.

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

April Hutcheson, communications director for the state health department, told the newspaper that specific segments of the population have been identified as being high risk for the spread of hepatitis A.

“There are several risk factors that have been identified, mostly within the homeless community, men who have sex with men, people who are currently infected and IV drug users,” Hutcheson said.

By declaring an outbreak, additional federal funding is available for vaccines, Hutcheson said.

“What’s key is that it is vaccine preventable,” Hutcheson said. “Folks can reach out to their state health centers.”

Hutcheson encouraged anyone in those high risk communities to seek vaccination.

For those who have been infected, symptoms can be mild and last several weeks, but more severe infections can last several months, according to the health department. Symptoms include fever, loss of appetite, nausea and vomiting, stomach pains and jaundice.

There is no treatment for the infection, but symptoms can be monitored and treated, according to the health department.

“The virus will go away, but it’s more of a treatment of the symptoms,” Hutcheson said.

Anyone with concerns can contact a health care provider or the health department at (877) PA-HEALTH.