Physicians have noted an increase in cases of hepatitis A both in Florida and nationwide.
The number of cases has been increasing over time, but it has been the most significant within the past few years, said Dr. Kartik Cherabuddi, a UF Health board-certified infectious disease physician.
Though the disease has been especially prominent in Florida’s Citrus, Orange and Marion counties, it has not become as much of an issue in Alachua County yet, Cherabuddi said.
Because many people who have had this illness describe it as “similar to a stomach bug,” residents should watch out for fever, diarrhea, nausea and fatigue, Cherabuddi said. Additional symptoms include a loss of appetite, abdominal pain, jaundice and, in rare cases, dark-colored urine.
The disease is spread through contact with bodily fluids, and it is important to seek medical care if you are experiencing symptoms, Cherabuddi said.
“There isn’t an antibiotic for this, so treatment is more about making sure you're hydrated and that the symptoms that are addressed and also that the people that you're living with don't get exposed to it,” he said.
People at high risk for hepatitis A include intravenous drug users, people who have sex with men and first responders and other medical professionals who come in contact with emergency room patients frequently, Cherabuddi said.
“If you are finding it difficult to get a vaccine through your healthcare provider or from certain pharmacies, probably the best place to reach out to is the Florida Department of Health for your county,” Cherabuddi said.
Cecilia Luna, a spokesperson for UF Health, notes because a hepatitis vaccination is one of UF’s immunization requirements, most students are vaccinated for this disease. However, those out of Gainesville for the summer should take precautions as they return to campus life, she said.
There is currently no evidence the outbreak has spread to UF, but students must still remain vigilant, Luna said.
“Especially on a campus as large as UF’s, where over 50,000 people are in one place, it’s really important to keep common areas clean and practice good hygiene,” Luna said.