CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Public health officials in Mecklenburg County say the area is experiencing an outbreak of the Hepatitis A virus. They’re encouraging gay men, bisexual men and other men who have sex with men to take advantage of a free vaccine program now being offered due to the outbreak.

As of June 11, the county has experienced a total of seven Hepatitis A cases. That’s higher than the usual entire-year average of five cases. Five of the seven current cases have been diagnosed among men who have sex with men.

Mecklenburg County’s Public Health Department is offering free Hepatitis A vaccines to at-risk groups. Individuals eligible for the free vaccine include: men who have sex with men, homeless persons, injection and non-injection drug users, and those people who have had direct contact to Hepatitis A cases.

The vaccines are being offered at two locations — 249 Billingsley Rd, Charlotte NC 28211 and 2845 Beatties Ford Rd, Charlotte, NC 28216. Walk-ins and appointments are accepted at both locations, Monday through Friday, 8 a.m.-5 p.m. The telephone number for appointments is 704.336.6500.

The best way to prevent a Hepatitis A infection is the vaccine. Other prevention methods include regular condom use for any sexual activity, as well as proper hand washing for at least 20 seconds with warm water and soap after using the bathroom, changing diapers, and before and after preparing food or eating.

Officials say the free vaccine program will continue as long as the outbreak continues. Usually, the vaccine is available through private healthcare providers, but is not free. “This is an opportunity for those who need the vaccine and are at risk to get it without cost,” a county health official said.

Matt Comer previously served as editor from October 2007 through August 2015 and as a staff writer afterward in 2016.