UPDATE: This story has been updated to include Osceola, Lake and Brevard Counties.
ORLANDO | The Florida Department of Health (DOH) in Orange, Osceola, Seminole, Lake and Brevard Counties announced they will offer free hepatitis A vaccinations to high-risk individuals, according to a Dec. 12 press release.
Men who have sexual encounters with other men are among the list of high-risk groups, according to the DOH. Other groups include users of recreational drugs, those who are homeless, anyone with chronic or long-term liver disease and people with clotting-factor disorders. The DOH also recommends that all children at age one year, people who have direct contact with those who have hepatitis A, travelers to countries where hepatitis A is common and caregivers of adoptees from countries where hepatitis A is common should be vaccinated as well.
“The hepatitis A virus is a vaccine-preventable disease. We continue to educate and encourage high-risk populations to get vaccinated and prevent hepatitis infection through our Hepatitis Prevention Program and community outreach,” said Donna Walsh, health officer for the Florida Department of Health in Seminole County, in the press release.
A spike in hepatitis A cases this year in Florida led to a public health advisory from Florida’s surgeon general in November. There have been 385 cases of hepatitis A statewide in 2018, up more than three times from the previous five-year average of 126 cases.
In November, an employee at Morimoto Asia in Disney Springs was found to be infected with hepatitis A.
Hepatitis A is a highly contagious disease that attacks the liver. People infected with hepatitis A are most contagious from two weeks before onset of symptoms to one week afterwards. Not everyone who is infected will have all the symptoms. Symptoms usually start within 28 days of exposure to the virus with a range of 15-50 days. Symptoms can include:
-Jaundice (yellowing skin and whites of eyes)
-Loss of appetite
-Nausea and vomiting
-Pale or clay colored stool
The hepatitis A vaccine is the best method of preventing infection, says the DOH. Once infected, there is no cure to the disease. Anyone experiencing hepatitis A symptoms should seek medical care immediately. Most people get better over time but may need to be hospitalized. People that are exposed to hepatitis A may get the vaccine within 14 days of exposure to prevent infection.
The DOH-Orange is offering free hepatitis A vaccines to uninsured Orange County residents by appointment only at two DOH-Orange locations: 6101 Lake Ellenor Drive, Orlando, FL 32809, for anyone 19 years of age or older, and 832 W. Central Blvd., Orlando, FL 32805.
The DOH-Orange has also been holding drive-thru clinic events offering free hepatitis A and flu shots at its 1001 Executive Center Drive, Orlando, FL 32803 location. Orange County residents are able to roll in, roll up a sleeve and receive a flu shot and a hepatitis A shot while remaining in their vehicles, and roll out. Residents should wear clothing that is loose around the arm so the public health nurse can administer the shot in the upper arm, without requiring residents to leave the comfort and convenience of their vehicle. Orange County residents can visit Orange.FloridaHealth.gov or call 407-858-1444 for more information on events and vaccination requirements.
The DOH-Seminole is offering free hepatitis A vaccines to high-risk individuals on Jan. 24 and Feb. 21 at Shepherd’s Hope Health Center located at 600 N. US Highway 17-92, Suite 124, Longwood, FL 32750. Seminole County residents can visit Seminole.FloridaHealth.gov or call 407-665-3243 for more information.
For more information, office hours and locations: Osceola County residents can visit Osceola.FloridaHealth.gov or call 407-343-2000; Brevard County residents can visit Brevard.FloridaHealth.gov or call 321-454-7111; and Lake County residents can visit Lake.FloridaHealth.gov or call 352-589-6424.