MARTIN COUNTY, Fla. — Health officials have released new details about a hepatitis A outbreak in Martin County, saying it didn't start with a single patient.
According to the Florida Department of Health, test results "indicate that there were multiple introductions of the virus into the community, with no common link, which are consistent with the person-to-person spread seen in outbreaks nationwide."
Health officials said test results from 19 cases between April 1 - 19 showed a close link between the virus circulating in Martin County and outbreaks in 17 other states.
There have been 22 confirmed cases of hepatitis A in Martin County this year and three deaths, according to the Florida Department of Health.
"Hepatitis A cases are on the rise nationally and as the third largest state in the nation, and as a major tourist destination, we must remain vigilant here in Florida," said Lieutenant Governor Jeanette Nuñez in a statement.
Doctors said the best way to protect yourself from getting hepatitis A is to get vaccinated and wash your hands after going to the bathroom and before handling food. The hepatitis A vaccine is available at doctor's offices, urgent care centers, pharmacies, and county health departments.
Health officials said the incubation time for hepatitis A is 15 to 50 days. That means you would start seeing symptoms between 15 and 50 days after you were exposed to the virus.
Word that no single source of the virus was identified comes at a hard time for Cindy Collins. Her husband, Lee Collins, died as a result of complications related to Hepatitis A this year in Martin County.
“Tomorrow will be our 33rd wedding anniversary," Collins said.
She held out hope that she might have a chance of learning where her husband contracted the virus. She learned Tuesday the health department could not give her an answer.
“I feel like somebody murdered my husband and no one wants to try to figure out who did it, that’s how I feel,” Collins said. “I am totally devastated.”
The Florida Department of Health in Martin County said health officials spent hundreds of hours reviewing lab reports and conducting interviews to learn where people who contracted the virus traveled and dined.
Cindy said she is confident her husband contracted it through something he ate.
"I believe it was something locally here.”
She has not given up hope that she might one day learn the source of Lee’s Hepatitis A. Until then, she wants people to remember him as a fisherman and family man.
“I don’t ever want anybody to forget him. That’s the whole thing. He was such a good man,” Collins said. “He loved life. He loved fishing. He loved me and our 9-year-old yellow lab.”
FDOH-Martin staff will continue routine surveillance for hepatitis A cases and all reportable diseases, with additional support from an FDOH-St Lucie Epidemiologist.
Since April 2019, FDOH Martin staff provided approximately 2,000 hepatitis A vaccinations to uninsured, underinsured and at-risk adults through a series of walk-in clinics and community outreach events.
For more information about hepatitis A, click here.