Florida lawmakers grapple with Hepatitis A epidemic

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (CAPITOL NEWS SERVICE) - Florida declared a public health emergency on August 1 over a skyrocketing number of Hepatitis A cases.

The disease won’t be considered under control until the vaccination rate hits 80 percent. (Pixabay/MGN)

Florida Senators were updated by the state’s Surgeon General Scott Rivkees Tuesday. The state is seeing almost five times more Hepatitis A cases so far this year than all of last year; 2,460 in 2019 compared to 548 in all of 2018.

“This is a hearty virus. This is a tough virus to kill. If the virus is on a surface, it can remain infectious for months,” said Rivkees.

Of particular concern are 13 counties, including Liberty County, where at least 100 cases or more are confirmed or where the infection rate is more than 10 cases for every hundred thousand people.

“We are currently unaware of any situations where Hepatitis A has been transmitted from a food worker to a patron in the state of Florida,” said Rivkees.

While alcohol-based hand sanitizers kill a lot of germs, they’re absolutely useless when it comes to Hepatitis A.

The homeless and drug users are at the greatest risk.

“Typically, it’s poop on your hands and you don’t wash your hands, particularly after going to the bathroom, it somehow makes it into food, and in your mouth,” said Chris Tittel with the Leon County Health Department.

Taxpayers will spend $15 million this year on vaccines.

State Senator Janet Cruz is worried the anti-vaccine movement could complicate the fight.

“You have a child that’s not vaccinated, I believe they are at the same risk, so this is contagious,” said Cruz.

The fight is far from over. Just 20 percent of the at-risk population has been vaccinated.

The disease won’t be considered under control until the vaccination rate hits 80 percent.

Florida has seen more than 3,000 cases with nearly 2,360 hospitalizations. Forty people have died in the state due to infection. Each hospitalization can cost taxpayers upwards of $70,000.