COLUMBIA, S.C. — South Carolina state health officials are officially calling the increase of Hepatitis A cases as a 'statewide outbreak.' 

The South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) announced its decision Monday. The agency says between November 1 and May 10, there have been 89 cases of the disease, leading to 59 hospitalizations and one death. The average number of cases in a year is 19, based on numbers over the last decade. 

“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.”

Hepatitis A is a contagious liver infection that can be spread from eating food or water contaminated by an infected person. DHEC says most people who get the disease feel sick for weeks, but recover completely and don't have permanent liver damage. It can take up to two to six weeks to get sick. Symptoms include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, stomach pain or yellowing of the eyes and skin.

So far, most cases have occurred in Aiken County, and almost half of all cases involve individuals who report drug use. Certain adults who may be at higher risk for hepatitis A include:

  • People who use injection or non-injection drugs
  • People who are homeless
  • People who are or recently were incarcerated
  • Men who have sex with men
  • People with chronic liver disease like cirrhosis, hepatitis B or C
  • People who are traveling to countries where hepatitis A is common
  • People with chronic liver disease like cirrhosis, hepatitis B or C as they have an increased risk of complications if infected with hepatitis A

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