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The hepatitis A outbreak in South Carolina is driven by infections among people in high-risk groups, and the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control is asking organizations and individuals who serve those populations to help prevent a more serious outbreak that could affect the general public.

DHEC has been working to vaccinate and educate those who are at highest risk of being infected by offering vaccines at health departments, special clinics and other locations. The agency also has established partnerships and encouraged health care providers and others to offer the vaccine.

Between Nov. 1, 2018, and July 19, 2019, there have been 225 hepatitis cases reported in South Carolina. Of those, 56 percent reported drug use, 14 percent were men who have sex with men, 13 percent were or had been incarcerated and 10 percent were homeless making the aforementioned groups high-risk.

A steady rise in hepatitis A cases since November 2018 led to DHEC defining the spread of the virus as an outbreak on May 13, 2019. Given the continuing spread of the disease, it is critical to further intensify efforts to vaccinate people in high-risk groups.

“It is challenging to control hepatitis A outbreaks if those in risk groups don’t seek or have access to immunization services,” said Linda Bell, a physician and state epidemiologist. “Many people in high-risk groups cannot or will not visit DHEC clinics. We must go to them.”

“We need organizations and individuals who offer services to these groups to help convince those who need it most to get vaccinated,” Bell said. “We are asking those who operate shelters, drug treatment programs, soup kitchens, jails and prisons, and others who serve or advocate for people in these groups to partner with us.”

Service providers or advocates willing to help are asked to contact a DHEC consultant at 803-898-0861.

Residents can schedule an appointment for a vaccination at their local health department by calling 855-472-3432 or visiting www.scdhec.gov/HealthClinics.