The S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control officially declared a statewide outbreak of hepatitis A following a recent uptick in reported cases in Aiken County.
“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," said Dr. Linda Bell, state epidemiologist and DHEC's director of the Bureau of Communicable Disease Prevention and Control.
A smaller outbreak was announced in Aiken County in February after an employee of the City Billiards restaurant tested positive for the infection.
Most of the current reported cases, according to DHEC's statement, have occurred in Aiken County. Nearly half of the cases were from people who reported drug use.
For the last 10 years, the health department said South Carolina was seeing an average of 19 reported hepatitis A cases a year. Between this month and November of last year, that number has quadrupled.
Of more than 80 cases of infection, one death and 60 hospitalizations have been reported.
Hepatitis A is a liver disease caused by a virus of the same name. Some of its symptoms include stomach pain, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. Yellowing of the eyes and skin, or jaundice, is another symptom.
For most adults, symptoms usually get better without treatment within two months of infection, according to the the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. The CDC also noted that most children under the age of 6 either don't see symptoms or the infection is unrecognized.
For treatment, the CDC advises most doctors to recommend rest and fluids.
The best way to prevent the virus is through vaccination. According to the CDC, antibodies produced from an initial infection last as lifetime. They also prevent reinfection.
The statewide jump in cases follows a 40-plus percent national increase in cases in 2016. The CDC said the increase was connected to two outbreaks linked to imported foods.
DHEC has created a hepatitis A task force to increase vaccination rates among high-risk groups, including drug users, men who have sex with men, and those with a history of incarceration or homelessness.
The department is currently offering free vaccines to individuals who fall into that high risk group. Residents can schedule a vaccination through the agency's website or by calling 855-472-3432.