Infection rates have slowed somewhat but New Jersey’s hepatitis A outbreak alert remains in effect.

State epidemiologist Tina Tan said normally there are about 65 hepatitis A cases a year in New Jersey. But since December 2018, there have been close to 600 reported cases.

According to data complied the state Department of Health, there have been 592 cases since December of 2018, the hospitalization rate has been 83% and the number of deaths associated with the outbreak now stands at seven.

She said we usually associate hepatitis A, a disease of the liver, with contaminated food or water but what we’ve seen over the past few years is an increase in person-to-person transmission.

“People who use drugs or people who are experiencing unstable housing, men who have sex with men, people who have been recently or currently incarcerated" are most at risk, Tan said.

She said people who get hepatitis A may not really feel too sick, or they might get a wide range of symptoms
“that include fever, tiredness, stomach pain, diarrhea and vomiting. Some people might feel sick for several weeks to months.”

She noted poor hygiene is believed to play a factor in many cases of hepatitis A.

“Usually, the rapid transmission is fecal-oral, that’s why we’re concerned about contaminated food and water being the source of transmission of the virus," she said.

So what can you do to protect yourself?

There is a vaccine for hepatitis A. Dr. Tan noted that the vaccine is now given to all kids over the age of 1 but adults can get it, too.

“Anybody who wants to get the vaccine to protect themselves can certainly go to their doctor or talk to the pharmacist to get the vaccine,” she said.

You can contact reporter David Matthau at David.Matthau@townsquaremedia.com

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