FRANKFORT, Ky. (KT) - Kentucky public health officials keep recommending vaccination for Hepatitis A as the outbreak nears 4,000 cases with 40 deaths across the state.
According to figures from the Cabinet for Health and Family Services, through Jan. 26 the number of cases stood at 3,919, resulting in 1,905 hospitalizations and 40 deaths, since the outbreak began being tracked in November 2017. Cases have been reported in 103 of Kentucky’s 120 counties.
Eighty counties have reported five or more cases, meaning they meet the threshold for what is considered an outbreak of Hepatitis A virus. Boyd, Carter, Fayette, Floyd, Jefferson, Kenton, Laurel, Madison and Whitley counties report 100 or more cases associated with the outbreak.
The Department for Public Health says people who are considered high risk for exposure to the Hepatitis A virus should get vaccinated as soon as possible, to avoid contracting the virus and lessen the spread of the disease. High risk groups include individuals who use illicit drugs, close contacts of illicit drug users, and homeless people. DPH said 80 percent of the cases have occurred in those groups.
Other priority areas of the population for vaccination include: people with direct contact with someone who has Hepatitis A (particularly during their infectious period); men who have sexual contact with men; and people who are at increased risk of complications from Hepatitis A (e.g., people with chronic liver disease).
“Immunizations can be obtained from a healthcare provider, pharmacies, and clinics throughout the state,” said DPH Commissioner Dr. Jeffrey Howard. “Local health departments have limited vaccine supply for at-risk individuals who are uninsured. In addition, if you live in a county experiencing an outbreak, we also urge you to be vaccinated for Hepatitis A as well as continue to practice regular and thorough hand washing, particularly if you are engaging with any of the high-risk groups.”
Health officials describe Hepatitis A as a highly contagious, vaccine-preventable disease of the liver, which causes inflammation of the liver and affects the organ’s ability to function. Signs and symptoms of infection include nausea, diarrhea, and loss of appetite, fever, fatigue, jaundice (yellowing of the skin or eyes), clay-colored bowel movements, dark-colored urine, and abdominal discomfort. Signs and symptoms usually appear 2-4 weeks after exposure but may occur up to 7 weeks after exposure. Children under 6 years of age with Hepatitis A often show few signs and symptoms.
The virus is found in the stool of infected people and is usually spread person-to-person when infected people do not properly wash their hands or do not have access to proper sanitation. Transmission typically occurs when a person ingests infected fecal matter, even in microscopic amounts, from contact with contaminated objects, food, or drinks. DPH recommends frequent hand washing, particularly after using the restroom, or before eating, to prevent transmission of hepatitis A and many other common diseases.
Since 2006, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has recommended that all children receive the Hepatitis A vaccine series. DPH recommends children aged 1 to 18 years receive the two-dose Hepatitis A vaccine, as well as at-risk adults.
Kentucky now requires all students in kindergarten through 12th grade to have two doses of the Hepatitis A vaccine in order to attend school or receive a provisional certificate of immunization.