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13 cases of hepatitis A in Martin County since January

Acute hepatitis A
Martin County Fire Rescue Chief Bill Schobel
Posted at 11:45 PM, Apr 04, 2019
and last updated 2019-04-05 18:41:44-04

PALM CITY, Fla. — Martin County officials said in a Friday news conference there have been 13 confirmed cases of hepatitis A since January. It takes five cases for a county to be considered a high risk area for hepatitis A.

"Things are under control. This is not an unusual thing to occur even in our nation. The state has identified about half the counties as having an outbreak,” said Fire Rescue Fire Chief Bill Schobel.

Schobel said good hygiene, like washing your hands, is key to preventing the spread of this disease.

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Martin County Sheriff William Snyder said Friday that his agency's investigators are volunteering their services to help the state with the outbreak.

Watch the full Friday news conference in the video player below (35 minutes):

On Thursday, the District 19 Medical Examiner’s office confirmed that a Palm City husband and wife, whose deaths were considered suspicious, were the result of complications related to hepatitis A.

Local attorney Jeffrey Kirsch and his wife, Nancy, were discovered deceased inside their Sunset Trace home.

Shortly after WPTV first reported the cause of death, another man approached WPTV’s Meghan McRoberts, saying he and his wife were also recently diagnosed with hepatitis A. They live on the same street and in the same block as the Kirsch family.

“I’d like an investigation done to figure out where this came from,” the man said, who did not want to be identified. He provided medical records proving his diagnosis and his wife's diagnosis.

He started having symptoms two weeks ago.

“I’m still having sweats and still exhausted,” the man said. He’s slowly getting better. “I got up to a 103.8 fever and I was completely dehydrated to where I had to go to the hospital.”

When he went to the hospital, he learned what was giving him “flu-like” symptoms. “Came back that I tested positive for hepatitis [A],” he said.

His wife began having symptoms soon after.

“I was completely shocked. The first thing that came to me is I have three children…It went to worrying about them before worrying about myself and they all have the vaccine,” the man said.

They have been trying to determine where they might have contracted the virus, known to spread through exposure to fecal matter from someone who has the virus, such as if someone with hepatitis A handles food without washing their hands, or it can be spread through physical contact.

“When you’re in bed for two weeks, you rack your brain day in and day out trying to figure out where this could have come from,” the man said.

Hearing the cause of death of his neighbors has him deeply concerned and wanting answers.

“It's scary to know we have two people that are dead and now we’re infected as well. There could be other people that have it and they don’t know yet.”

At least half a dozen deputies with the Martin County Sheriff’s Office responded to the Kirsch’s home when they were sick through a series of welfare checks.

That includes animal control officers who responded to the home to remove several pets after the couple was discovered deceased. Medical staff for the sheriff’s office is monitoring the health of those deputies and taking appropriate precautionary health measures.

The Florida Department of Health confirmed Martin County is currently considered a "high risk" area for the virus, and is urging people to be vaccinated.

Doctors say if you are not vaccinated, you are at risk. Practicing good hygiene and washing hands often is important.

Symptoms of hepatitis A include fever, loss of appetite, nausea, abdominal discomfort and jaundice.

"Most people if you are healthy, you're not going to get sick and die from this. Most people will get the symptoms but then get better," said Palm Beach Gardens Medical Center Dr. Jamie Snarski.

The incubation period of hepatitis A is 28 days and symptoms can last two months.