The state’s latest tally of hepatitis A cases is up to just shy of 600, the highest case count in twenty years.  It’s part of a larger nationwide outbreak.  Louisiana Department of Health immunization director Dr. Frank Welch says the state’s number of new cases appears to be slowing down.

“About two or three months ago, we had really accelerated on our case count, so that’s sort of the silver lining, that we are slowing down on cases.  The bad news is we’re still finding cases every single week,” said Welch.

The average number of cases each year in the state is 10 to 15 cases.  Livingston Parish has the largest concentration of cases, between 121 and 240 cases. East Baton Rouge and Ouachita parishes reported the second-highest concentration.

Welch says those most at risk for the ailment are those that have been homeless or have used injectable drugs over the last year and says immunizations can easily be obtained from pharmacies, doctors, federally qualified health centers, or public health units.

“The state of Louisiana, along with our partners have given out more than 10,000 doses of the hepatitis A vaccine to try to slow down and combat this epidemic,” said Welch.

Welch says the ailment, which is a highly contagious liver infection, can be spread easily through close contact, adding it is nothing to take lightly.

“Six in ten people who get this hepatitis A have to be hospitalized.  And we’ve had deaths in Louisiana, plus deaths nationwide,” said Welch.

While having the vaccine is the best way to prevent catching hepatitis A, good hygiene including thoroughly washing hands is another recommendation in fighting back the epidemic.