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Hepatitis A Outbreak In Pennsylvania Brings Reminder About Often Forgotten Vaccine

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) -- Philadelphia health officials are tracking an increased number of hepatitis A cases in the city this year, and Pennsylvania is on the CDC's list of states with ongoing outbreaks. Most people don't know there's a vaccine for hepatitis A. One South Jersey woman found out the hard way.

"I even started to turn yellow. I had jaundice, a yellowing of the skin and eyes," Angela Frost said.

The 35-year-old Frost was shocked to find out that what she thought was the flu was actually hepatitis A, a contagious inflammation of the liver.

"I was out of work for two weeks," Frost said. "I was hospitalized for dehydration."

Pennsylvania is one of 24 states with ongoing outbreaks of hepatitis A, according to the CDC. It's usually associated with homelessness and drug use, but it can also be spread at restaurants, by eating or drinking something that's contaminated.

"From someone who is contaminated with the virus who has not washed their hands properly after the bathroom," Frost said.

Frost thinks she and five friends who also tested positive for hepatitis A were infected at a Philadelphia restaurant that she's not naming.

"We all gathered at that one particular time and then we all ended up having it," she said.

And in 2019, when they were infected, Philadelphia had 441 cases and declared a health emergency.

"I didn't even know hepatitis was a thing, let alone that there was a vaccine for it," Frost said.

Since 2006, the hepatitis A vaccine is included in childhood immunizations. The CDC recommends it for people at high risk, but anyone over the age of 15 can get the vaccine.

Dr. Leah Smith is with GSK, a maker of a hepatitis A vaccine.

"It's not just for high-risk individuals," Smith said. "You, me, we are all at risk for developing hepatitis A, so it's worth a conversation with your family, your friends and your health care providers."

Only about 15% of adults have received the hepatitis A vaccine, which can be given along with other vaccines, including the one for COVID-19.

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