MARTIN COUNTY, Fla. — The Department of Health in Martin County on Monday confirmed more cases of hepatitis A. Officials have now confirmed 15 cases of hepatitis A, an increase from the 13 cases confirmed Friday.
This is the highest number of cases in one year ever recorded in Martin County since the Florida Department of Health began tracking the occurrence of the virus in the late 1990s.
Previously, records from the Florida Department of Health show the highest number of cases was seven cases in 2001. The last time there would have been a "high risk" designation for the county -- reached once the county receives five confirmed cases -- was in 2014.
Martin Gucciardo was diagnosed with the virus in late March.
“It’s been hell, honestly,” he said.
He is only now starting to feel better.
Gucciardo said he wants to see the health department be more aggressive in searching for potential sources of the virus.
He says he has only heard from the health department one time since he was hospitalized on March 23.
“I got a phone call in the hospital that Saturday from the Department of Health, and they asked where I’ve been to eat and what places, if I’ve eaten any fish, raw seafood,” Gucciardo said.
His wife was diagnosed with hepatitis A about one week later.
“My wife was diagnosed on the 28th,” Gucciardo said.
He is more concerned about her case, saying the health department has still not contacted her.
“She hasn’t received a phone call from the health department yet,” Gucciardo said.
Gucciardo said he called the health department himself Monday to bring attention to her case.
“She’s yellow. She’s having all the symptoms. I’m getting angry. I’m getting frustrated,” Gucciardo said.
They both want to be able to give as much information as they can to help with the investigation. They do not fit the "high risk" criteria for people most at risk for the virus, and worry more people are at risk.
“We don’t fit the standard category of the type of person. I'm not homeless. I’m not an intravenous drug user. My wife is a stay at home mom,” said Gucciardo.
He has tried to determine if he ate contaminated food.
“I can give [the health department] my credit card statements. I can list every place I’ve eaten in the last month, two months, three months … they haven’t asked for anything,” he said.
Renay Rouse, a spokeswoman for the Florida Department of Health in Martin County, assures the community this is under investigation.
"We have our epidemiologist working on it. We have our local, regional and state folks looking at this and working to pinpoint a source,” Rouse said. “At this point, it may be awhile before we figure it out,” said Rouse.
County leaders like Commissioner Ed Ciampi are also waiting for answers.
“If we can find some mapping to know exactly where the cases are, that might be helpful, but I know our health department is working on that,” Ciampi said.
He represents Palm City, where two people died after contracting the virus.
"We have really turned it up now to make sure all of our entities, fire rescue, our sheriff’s office, the hospital and local doctors are really starting to pay attention to this. So, hopefully we’re at the end of the cycle, maybe we’ve peaked, but I wouldn’t be surprised if there’s more cases,” said Ciampi.
The Martin County Sheriff's Office says it is still on standby, offering assistance if needed in the investigation. Health officials have not requested extra assistance.
A spokesperson for Cleveland Clinic Martin Health says their offices are getting more calls about hepatitis A. They started working last week to increase vaccine supplies. Right now, they believe they have what they need to accommodate community needs.
To protect yourself from the disease, health officials recommend you:
- Seek medical attention if you experience symptoms.
- Contact a health care provider or doctor with questions or concerns, especially if you any underlying liver conditions.
- Exercise good hygiene, and wash your hands after using the bathroom and before preparing or eating food.
- Get the hepatitis A vaccine.