Patterns emerge in the way Hepatitis A is spreading in Florida

The state is starting to detect patterns in how Hepatitis A is spreading across Florida.

In its search for the source, the state epidemiologist with Florida’s Department of Health has found Hepatitis A is concentrated in the homeless and drug using community, but has spread to other populations in Florida by those who have had contact with the homeless, or by people who have traveled to Florida from places where Hepatitis A is rampant.

In the last 15 months, Florida has seen an outbreak of more than 1,400 people with Hepatitis A, with cases in every county. At this time, the bulk of the cases — about 400 of them — are in Pinellas and Pasco counties.

As of Monday, Miami-Dade (13), Broward (8) and Palm Beach (5) counties had a combined 26 cases, up slightly from 19 a week earlier.

The contagious virus that infects the liver spreads through the feces of people, primarily when they don’t wash their hands after using the bathroom. The feces can transfer to objects, food, drinks or drugs. Sometimes, it is spread by infected restaurant workers who touch food before it is served.

Carina Blackmore, the state epidemiologist tasked with identifying the source of the virus, said some links between cases are emerging. “What we believe is happening is since the disease is spread from person to person, and people have contact with high-risk groups in the community, the rest of transmission is primarily by people who are not homeless or drug users but come in contact with people who are,” she said.

In Pinellas County, an infected individual worked in a restaurant and may have spread the virus. All people who have come in contact with that person have been notified and vaccinated for the disease before they showed symptoms.

In 2016, health officials traced a multi-state outbreak of hepatitis A to frozen strawberries processed at a single plant. Blackmore said there is no evidence that the current outbreak is food-borne.

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