Sunday August 25, 2019

Florida Becomes Latest Place to Declare Public Health Emergency Over Hepatitis A

Florida had 65 new cases in the past two weeks alone, bringing the total to 2,034, state officials said

0
//
hepatitis A
FILE - Mexican Health Ministry representatives give migrants free shots for the flu, hepatitis B, tetanus, and preventible children's diseases at the Barretal shelter for migrants in Tijuana, Mexico, Dec. 6, 2018. VOA

Officials have declared a public health emergency over the rising number of hepatitis A cases in Florida, the latest part of the country dealing with outbreaks of the liver disease. Florida Surgeon General Scott Rivkees declared an emergency Thursday to allow the state to spend more on testing and treatment, saying Florida has had more than 2,000 cases since the beginning of the year compared with 548 all of last year. Most have been in central Florida, and health officials are still investigating the sources.

“We urge vaccination and stress the importance of washing your hands regularly,” Florida Lt. Gov. Jeanette Nunez said in a tweet. Philadelphia also declared an emergency Thursday, and Mississippi officials announced an outbreak in their state earlier in the week. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says Kentucky has had 4,793 cases since an outbreak there in 2017; since 2018, Ohio has had 3,220 and West Virginia 2,528.

Hepatitis A is a virus that infects the liver and is spread through food, water and objects tainted by feces, or through close contact. Its flulike symptoms, if they occur, usually last about two months. It had been considered a disease that was fading away, thanks in part to vaccines available since 1995. As recently as 2015, fewer than 1,400 cases were reported nationwide.

florida, hepatitis A
Florida had 65 new cases in the past two weeks alone, bringing the total to 2,034, state officials said. Pixabay

But three years ago, a wave of outbreaks among homeless people and illicit drug users began appearing in the U.S. More than two dozen states have reported such outbreaks since then, with more than 22,500 cases, including 221 deaths. Vaccines have typically been administered to children, but many of the new cases have been in adults.

ALSO READ: US Drug Overdose Deaths More Common in Cities than Rural Areas

Florida had 65 new cases in the past two weeks alone, bringing the total to 2,034, state officials said. That compares with 548 last year and 276 cases in 2017. Dr. Eugene Schiff, director for liver diseases at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine and former epidemic intelligence service officer for CDC, told The Associated Press that the disease is likely spreading in Florida among homeless and unvaccinated people. He said intravenous drug users, men who have sex with men and the homeless are at a higher risk for the illness.

“Homelessness is a big issue throughout the country and in Florida, and they are at higher risk to spread hepatitis A around,” Dr. Schiff said. “It is more epidemic in the homeless community.” But he noted that the vaccine protects people against the disease: “This is entirely preventable. It is not that this is a virulent strain, there is just a larger risk if people haven’t been vaccinated.” (VOA)

Next Story

Florida: American Crocodiles, Once Headed Towards Extinction, Thriving Outside Nuclear Plant

Crocodiles are shy and want nothing to do with us. Humans are too big to be on their menu

0
crocodiles
Wildlife biologist/crocodile specialist Michael Lloret holds a baby crocodile on one of the berms along the cooling canals next to the Turkey Point Nuclear Generating Station, July 19, 2019, in Homestead, Fla. VOA

American crocodiles, once headed toward extinction, are thriving at an unusual spot — the canals surrounding a South Florida nuclear plant. Last week, 73 crocodile hatchlings were rescued by a team of specialists at Florida Power & Light’s Turkey Point nuclear plant and dozens more are expected to emerge soon.

Turkey Point’s 168-mile (270-kilometer) man-made canals serve as the home to several hundred crocodiles, where a team of specialists working for FPL monitors and protects them from hunting and climate change.

From January to April, Michael Lloret, an FPL wildlife biologist and crocodile specialist, helps create nests for the creatures. Once the hatchlings are reared and left by the mother, the team captures them. They are measured and tagged with microchips to observe their development. Lloret then relocates them to increase survival rates.

“We entice crocodiles to come in to the habitats FPL created,” Lloret said. “We clear greenery on the berms so that the crocodiles can nest. Because of rising sea levels wasting nests along the coasts, Turkey Point is important for crocodiles to continue.”

crocodile

Wildlife biologist/crocodile specialist Michael Lloret points out a crocodile nest on one of the berms along the cooling canals next to the Turkey Point Nuclear Generating Station, July 19, 2019, in Homestead, Fla. VOA

Now ‘threatened,’ not ‘endangered’

The canals are one of three major U.S. habitats for crocodiles, where 25% of the 2,000 American crocodiles live. The FPL team has been credited for moving the classification of crocodiles on the Endangered Species Act to “threatened” from “endangered” in 2007. The team has tagged 7,000 babies since it was established in 1978.

Temperature determines the crocodiles’ sex: the hotter it is, the more likely males are hatched. Lloret said this year’s hatchlings are male-heavy because of last month’s weather — it was the hottest June on record globally.

ALSO READ: Dog Mounted Camera Allows Dogs to Live Stream from Higher Risk Areas

Because hatchlings released are at the bottom of the food chain, only a small fraction of them survive to be adults. Lloret said they at least have a fighting chance at Turkey Point, away from humans who hunted them to near-extinction out of greed and fear, even though attacks are rare. Only one crocodile attack has ever been recorded in the U.S. — a couple were both bitten while swimming in a South Florida canal in 2014, but both survived.

“American crocodiles have a bad reputation, when they are just trying to survive,” Lloret said. “They are shy and want nothing to do with us. Humans are too big to be on their menu.” (VOA)