TALLAHASSEE — Florida Surgeon General Scott Rivkees has declared a public health emergency to address the increasing number of hepatitis A cases in the state due to the current national outbreak. Rivkees’ declaration builds on the public health advisory the state issued last November and reemphasizes the importance of the hepatitis A vaccination as the best way to prevent the infection.

In a news conference held last weekend, the Department of Health listed 17 counties as being “critically impacted” by the virus. The department defines a “critically impacted” county as having at least 10 cases per 100,000 people.

Florida has seen 2,034 cases of hepatitis A this year with Pasco County having recorded the most, with 358 cases, and Pinellas County a close second, with 328.

“I am declaring this Public Health Emergency as a proactive step to appropriately alert the public to this serious illness and prevent further spread of hepatitis A in our state,” Rivkees said. “The best way to prevent hepatitis A is through vaccination. It is important that we vaccinate as many high-risk individuals as possible in order to achieve herd immunity. I will continue to work with Gov. DeSantis and Lt. Gov. Jeanette Nunez to take proactive steps to protect the health of Florida’s residents and visitors.”

The declaration allows the state health department to request assistance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Those considered high-risk include those experiencing homelessness, intravenous and non-intravenous drug users, men who have sex with other men, individuals in an emergency room or other acute care settings, and first responders.

The surgeon general also reminds the public of the importance of practicing good handwashing procedures to prevent any other spread of the virus.

The Florida Department of Health has launched a web page dedicated to the hepatitis A virus at floridahealth.gov/hepa.

On this page, visitors can find general information, frequently asked questions, as well as fact sheets about the virus.

The department has also established a dedicated email address (HepA@flhealth.gov) and information line, 844-225-5364, available weekdays from 8 a.m. until 5 p.m.

The Pasco County Health Department can be contacted at 727-861-5250. The Pinellas County Health Department can be reached at 727-824-6900.