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Hepatitis A outbreak is spreading in New Jersey

<p>Dr. Nikolas Pyrsopoulos, director of the Division of Gastroenterology &amp; Hepatology at Rutgers New Jersey Medical School, said vaccines can help prevent hepatitis A.</p>

Dr. Nikolas Pyrsopoulos, director of the Division of Gastroenterology & Hepatology at Rutgers New Jersey Medical School, said vaccines can help prevent hepatitis A.

The hepatitis A outbreak in New Jersey continues, with the number of confirmed cases over the last 11 months now being at 533, including six deaths, according to an article by NJ Advance Media.

Health officials issued an alert after a ShopRite deli worker could have exposed people to the disease over an 18-day period last month, according to the article.

With New Jersey having 66 hepatitis A cases in the same time period the previous year, infectious disease specialists are becoming more concerned, according to the article. The outbreak began on Dec. 1 and includes cases in all 21 New Jersey counties.

“This has become a public health issue for the state,” said Dr. Nikolaos Pyrsopoulos, the director of gastroenterology and hepatology at Rutgers New Jersey Medical School. “We need to raise awareness in the state that this exists and help people take steps to prevent it from happening.”

Officials at the New Jersey Department of Health (NJDOH) have data for 396 cases, with 322 people requiring hospitalization, according to the article. 

“In my experience that’s the most I’ve ever seen have to be hospitalized,” Pyrsopoulos said.

From 2013 to 2017, there were never more than 74 cases in New Jersey in a single year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

There are growing concerns following the report of the ShopRite deli worker and another case of an infected food handler at Mendham Golf and Tennis Club, according to the article. There was also a case where a worker at Camp Somers was diagnosed with the infection over the summer. 

The Mendham Golf and Tennis Club exposure resulted in one death among the 27 who were infected, likely between June 9 and 30, according to the article. 

The Somerville ShopRite deli worker was contagious between Oct. 13 and Oct. 30, according to the article. The New Jersey and Somerset County health departments released a statement stating that anyone who bought food from the deli should throw it away.

Those who consumed products from the deli or used the store’s bathrooms during this time, who have not already been vaccinated against hepatitis A, should get vaccinated as soon as possible, according to the article.

Hepatitis A is a highly contagious disease involving inflammation of the liver, while hepatitis B and C are blood-borne diseases, according to the article. Hepatitis A is usually spread when a person unknowingly ingests the virus from objects, food or drinks contaminated by small or undetected amounts of stool from an infected person, according to the article.

“It is preventable so it’s imperative that people wash and clean their hands well,” Pyrsopoulos said, according to the article. 

Pyrsopoulos said that a vaccine that can prevent hepatitis A is 95% effective and lasts approximately 11 years, according to the article. 

Most people who contract the infection recover in a few weeks, according to the CDC. In severe cases, the illness can last upward of a few months and, in rare cases, result in death. 

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