The South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) has declared a statewide outbreak of hepatitis A, making it the 21st state to do so since mid-2016.

Image/CDC (cropped)

This follows a declared outbreak in Aiken County in February.

During the past 10 years, South Carolina averaged 19 reported cases of hepatitis A annually. More than four times that amount has been reported in the past seven months. Between Nov. 1, 2018, and May 10, 2019, there have been 86 reported cases of hepatitis A in South Carolina, leading to 59 hospitalizations and one death.

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“Given the steady increase in cases, we determined that South Carolina is experiencing an outbreak,” said Dr. Linda Bell, state epidemiologist and director of the Bureau of Communicable Disease Prevention and Control. “As a result, DHEC is intensifying efforts to control the spread of hepatitis A to avoid a severe outbreak that could threaten the general population.”

To date, most cases have occurred in Aiken County, and almost half of all cases involve individuals who report drug use.

“We have established a hepatitis A task force that is coordinating efforts to control the spread of the virus by increasing vaccination rates among high-risk groups, establishing partnerships critical to reaching those groups, and conducting outreach and education efforts,” Bell said.

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The hepatitis A vaccine is the best form of protection. Wash your hands after using the restroom and before eating or preparing meals for yourself or others.