Hepatitis A outbreak reaches West Michigan

(AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

BATTLE CREEK, Mich. (WOOD) — A hepatitis A outbreak that has gripped southeast Michigan has now reached West Michigan.

The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services says three cases of hepatitis A that were reported in Calhoun County are linked to the strain in southeast Michigan. Calhoun County health officials say two of those cases were in people who live in southeast Michigan but were diagnosed in Calhoun County; one of the people involved is a Calhoun County resident.

Since August 2016, health officials have recorded 495 cases of hepatitis A in the state. Macomb County has seen the highest number of cases at 162. Detroit has had 123 cases, Wayne County 80 and Oakland County 78.

“The difference with this strain, and we’re not really sure exactly why, but we’re seeing a lot more hospitalization and we’re actually seeing quite a few deaths,” said Michelle Thorne of the Calhoun County Health Department. “There has been about an 84 percent hospitalization rate and there have been about 19 deaths that have occurred between August and November. So that’s quite unusual for us to see with hepatitis A.”

Michigan activated the State Emergency Operations Center about two weeks ago to respond to the outbreak.

The MDHHS says the virus appears to be spreading from person to person through illicit drug use, but can also be contracted by close contact with someone with hepatitis A. That’s why health officials are advising high risk groups like those who live or work in prisons, live on the streets, use drugs, handle food or who have certain medical conditions to get the hepatitis A vaccine.

Those who do not have health insurance are encouraged to contact the Calhoun County Public Health Department to learn about their vaccination options.

Hepatitis A attacks the liver. It can cause fatigue, fever, nausea or loss of appetite, abdominal pain, joint pain, and jaundice. Most people recover, but some cases can advance to liver failure and death.

“Some people can have a very mild disease and you just stay at home drink your fluids, rest and you’ll probably be just fine, but some people can get really sick from this,” Thorne, from the Calhoun County Health Department, said.

While the recent outbreak has been linked to drug use, hepatitis A is often spread when a person ingests fecal matter from food, water, or sources contaminated with infected feces.

“One of the best ways you can protect yourself is hand washing,” Thorne said.