Photo via Johnny Silvercloud/Flickr
South Carolina is experiencing a hepatitis A outbreak, with cases quadrupling in frequency over the past seven months.
The flare-up is part of a nationwide outbreak that began in 2016, according to the state Department of Health and Environmental Control
. South Carolina has averaged 19 cases a year over the past decade, but over the past six months, 86 cases have been reported.
The diagnoses have led to 59 hospitalizations and one death.
Most cases are in Aiken County, DHEC says, and almost half of all cases involve individuals who report drug use.
Hepatitis A is a contagious liver infection transmitted through person-to-person contact with someone who has the infection, or through eating or drinking food or water contaminated by an infected person, according to the department
. Most people who contract it feel sick for several weeks, but they usually recover with no lasting liver damage.
Symptoms include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, stomach pain, and yellowing of the eyes and skin.
"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," said Dr. Linda Bell, director of the Bureau of Communicable Disease Prevention and Control, in a statement released Monday.
DHEC is offering free hepatitis A vaccines to at-risk populations including drug users, homeless individuals, men who have sex with men, and those who have a history of incarceration. You can schedule an appointment for vaccination here
In the meantime, DHEC recommends washing your hands after using the bathroom and before meals, getting vaccinated, and refraining from sex with someone who has a hepatitis A infection.