FORT LAUDERDALE (CBSMiami/AP) – In an effort to deal with the astounding rise in Hepatitis A cases, Florida officials have declared a public health emergency.

Florida Surgeon General Scott Rivkees declared the emergency Thursday to alert the public about the seriousness of the illness and to allow greater testing and treatment.

There have been 2,034 cases of Hepatitis A in Florida since the beginning of the year. By comparison, there were 548 cases last year and 276 cases in 2017.

The outbreak appears to be worse on the west coast. In July, the Tampa area reported more than 300 new cases in the month of July alone. Miami-Dade, Broward, and Palm Beach counties have reported a couple of dozen new cases since the beginning of the year.

Hepatitis A is caused by a virus that infects the liver and it’s spread through the feces of those who are infected.

“Usually you contract it from contaminated food or water, it’s a fecal bound virus, meaning it was contamination of food or water from feces and from humans,” said Dr. Matt Ferenc with Broward Health Medical Center.

It is often spread when infected people don’t wash their hands after going to the bathroom. Prevention is key

“Lots of handwashing of course, especially before meals, at restaurants, before going to restaurant washing, using any kind of leaners, hand sanitizers as well,” said Ferenec.

In Martin County, four people have died after contracting Hepatitis A. Cindy Collins lost her husband Lee.

“There’s no need for anyone else to pass away from this,” she said.

Symptoms of Hepatitis A in adults include fatigue, stomach pain, low appetite, vomiting, dark urine, and jaundice, which usually resolve within two months of infection. Children under six 6 years old may not show signs of symptoms.

You should get tested for Hepatitis A if you’ve had Hepatitis, if you’ve snorted or injected illegal or recreational drugs, ever had kidney dialysis or had direct contact with the blood of another person.

Doctors recommend a vaccination to prevent getting it.

“Absolutely. It’s especially very useful for people who are traveling to countries or areas which have disease,” Ferenc.

The Florida Department of Health in Broward County Hepatitis Prevention Program offers free hepatitis A and hepatitis B vaccines, as well as hepatitis B and C testing, for adults at increased risk for hepatitis infection.

(© Copyright 2019 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)