A nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Three Hepatitis A deaths; CDC recommends vaccinations for children in affected counties

By Tom Latek
Kentucky Today

Three deaths are being blamed on the hepatitis A outbreak in Kentucky, according to the Department of Public Health.

Through April 14, the Kentucky Department of Public Health confirmed 352 outbreak-associated cases, leading to 246 hospitalizations and three deaths.

State health officials are recommending vaccinations for residents in six Kentucky counties affected by an outbreak of Hepatitis A. The affected area includes Jefferson, Bullitt, Hardin, Greenup, Carter and Boyd counties.

Acting Public Health Commissioner Dr. Jeffrey Howard said they are aggressively responding to the situation.  “In fact, while working with the Centers for Disease Control, or CDC, on this issue, they’ve called our response the gold standard.”

He says there has been misleading information that has raised concerns about travel to Kentucky, including next month’s Derby. 

“Let me say that it is safe to travel to Kentucky and it is safe to attend the Kentucky Derby.  The risk of contracting hepatitis A is greatest in those with risk factors for the disease, which in our outbreak include homelessness and drug abuse.”

Despite recent media reports of restaurant and grocery store employees testing positive for hepatitis A in Jefferson County, Howard said “the risk of contracting the disease from an infected food worker is very low.”

The CDC does recommend vaccination for children, persons with risk factors, and those living in an outbreak area who wish to be protected.

Hepatitis A virus is primarily spread through fecal-oral transmission.  The virus can also be spread by sexual contact with someone who has hepatitis A.  Risk factors for cases reported in the current Kentucky outbreak primarily are homelessness and injection drug use. As long as unvaccinated people continue to come in contact with contaminated environments or have at-risk activities, the virus will continue to spread.

“We have to increase vaccination rates and adherence to good hand hygiene practices to reduce the spread,” Howard said. “The CDC has advised that similar outbreaks usually peak after about 6-8 months. We are not expecting to experience a shorter duration.”

The vaccine is not recommended for children under the age of one.

Besides the six outbreak counties, hep A cases have also been reported in Anderson, Hopkins, Kenton, Leslie, Marion, McCracken, Russell, Spencer and Taylor counties.

The Department of Public Health first reported the outbreak on Nov. 21, 2017.  The 10-year average number of acute hepatitis A cases has been approximately 20 cases per year in Kentucky.

Other than age-appropriate vaccinations, the best way to keep from getting hepatitis A is to wash your hands using warm water and soap, handle uncooked food appropriately, and to fully cook food. Always wash your hands before touching or eating food, after using the toilet, and after changing a diaper.

Department of Public Health

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