Hepatitis A Outbreak in Georgia - Infection is Preventable With Vaccination

Hepatitis A is a highly contagious liver infection caused by the hepatitis A virus (HAV). It can range from a mild illness lasting a few weeks to a severe illness lasting several months. Although rare, hepatitis A can cause death in some people. Hepatitis A usually spreads when a person unknowingly ingests the virus from objects, food, or drinks contaminated by small, undetected amounts of stool from an infected person. Hepatitis A can also spread from close personal contact with an infected person, such as household or sexual contacts or caring for someone who is ill.

Since June 2018, the Georgia Department of Public Health (DPH) has identified hundreds of acute hepatitis A virus (HAV) infections statewide, and the numbers continue to increase. This mirrors the large HAV outbreaks that have been occurring in other states among injection and non-injection drug users, homeless populations, and men who have sex with men (MSM).

The best way to prevent HAV infection is through vaccination with the hepatitis A vaccine. The following groups are at highest risk for acquiring HAV infection or developing serious complications from HAV infection in these outbreaks and should be offered the hepatitis A vaccine:

  • People who use drugs (injection or non-injection)
  • People experiencing homelessness
  • Men who have sex with men (MSM)
  • People who are, or were recently, incarcerated
  • People with chronic liver disease, including cirrhosis, hepatitis B, or hepatitis 

Acute hepatitis A is a reportable condition in Georgia and should be reported immediately to your local public health department or by calling 1-866-PUB-HLTH (1-866-782-4584).

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DPH Commissioner

Kathleen E. Toomey, M.D., M.P.H., was appointed commissioner of the Georgia Department of Public Health by Governor Brian Kemp in March 2019. As commissioner, Dr. Toomey oversees 159 county health departments in 18 health districts, and various public health programs.

Before her appointment to commissioner, Dr. Toomey served as Director of the Fulton County Department of Health and Wellness. She led the department’s transition to become the Fulton County Board of Health and continuing as district health director until December 2018.

An epidemiologist and board-certified family practitioner, Dr. Toomey’s career in public health is long and distinguished, holding key leadership positions with the State of Georgia and both national and international leadership positions with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). She served as the CDC’s Country Director in Botswana. In addition to other leadership positions with the CDC, Dr. Toomey previously served as the Director of the Division of Public Health with the Georgia Department of Human Resources.

Dr. Toomey earned a bachelor’s degree in Biology from Smith College. As a Fulbright Scholar, she studied indigenous healing practices in Peru. Dr. Toomey earned her M.D. and M.P.H. degrees from Harvard University. In 1985, Dr. Toomey was selected as a Pew Health Policy Research Fellow at the Institute for Health Policy Studies at the University of California, San Francisco. While in San Francisco, she served on committees looking at the initial cases of emergent HIV. 
 

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