A large outbreak of hepatitis A infections continues to concern state public health officials.
Since June of last year, 214 cases have been reported in the state, including 64 last month alone, said Cherie Drenzek, the state epidemiologist, at a Tuesday board meeting of the Georgia Department of Public Health.
One person has died, she said.
Georgia is one of 18 states currently experiencing a large number of cases of the highly contagious liver infection. GHN first reported on the Georgia hepatitis A surge last month.
The Northwest Health District, based in Rome, is being hit especially hard, Drenzek said Tuesday, with 89 of the infections recorded there. Other areas affected include Dalton, Augusta and Fulton County, she added. Two-thirds of the Georgia patients have been hospitalized. The NW Health District is comprised of Bartow, Catoosa, Chattooga, Dade, Floyd, Gordon, Haralson, Paulding, Polk and Walker counties.
The outbreak ‘‘is tremendously challenging and costly to control,’’ she said.
Hepatitis A can range from a mild illness lasting a few weeks to a severe illness lasting several months.
Public Health is focusing its prevention strategy on targeting drug users, the homeless, and men who have sex with men, saying they account for a large number of infections. Health officials are offering screening and vaccination to these groups, as well as people who are incarcerated and those with HIV or chronic liver disease.
Extra doses of vaccine for hepatitis A are going to Rome and other high infection areas, said Sheila Lovett, immunization program director.
Nationally, there have been more than 15,000 cases reported in an ‘‘explosive spread’’ of the disease, with 140 deaths, Drenzek said.
Symptoms of hepatitis A can include nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, loss of appetite, fever, diarrhea and headache. It is usually transmitted from person to person through the fecal-oral route or consumption of contaminated food or water.
Most people who get hepatitis A feel sick for several weeks, but they usually recover completely and do not have lasting liver damage, the CDC says.
In rare cases, hepatitis A can cause liver failure and death. This is more common in people older than 50 and in people who also have other liver diseases.
More than 90 percent of Georgia schoolchildren have received a vaccination for hepatitis A, officials said.
The Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices recommends that the following groups be vaccinated against hepatitis A:
♦ All children age 1 or older
♦ Men who have sex with men
♦ Illicit drug users (injection or non-injection)
♦ Household members and close personal contacts of people with hepatitis A infection
♦ People who are homeless
♦ Travelers to countries where hepatitis A is common
♦ People with chronic liver disease, including hepatitis B and/or hepatitis C.