Hepatitis A outbreak in south-central Kentucky

The Barren River District Health Department (BRDHD) and the Kentucky Department for Public Health (KDPH) are recommending that residents of Warren County over the age of one year get vaccinated against hepatitis A, due to an ongoing outbreak.

The current hepatitis A outbreak is occurring primarily within specific at-risk populations, including people who use illicit drugs (both injection and non-injection) and the homeless, through person-to-person transmission; however, approximately 30 percent of cases do not report any risk factors. Therefore, it is recommended that children and adults in counties with local transmission of the virus receive the hepatitis A vaccine.

Hepatitis A is a vaccine-preventable illness. Since 2006, the CDC has recommended children receive the hepatitis A vaccine series. Effective July 1, 2018, all Kentucky students in kindergarten through 12th grade must receive two doses of the hepatitis A vaccine to attend school or receive a provisional certificate of immunization (unless their parents claim an exemption). Check with your provider to see if your child has already been immunized against hepatitis A.

Kentucky averages less than 20 cases of hepatitis A infection each year. In the past 9 months, Kentucky has had over 580 cases resulting in 371 hospitalizations. To date, Warren County has identified more than 5 cases, indicating that we are directly affected by this outbreak. This is a cause for concern and action.

Hepatitis A, a highly contagious disease of the liver, is spread when a person unknowingly ingests the virus from objects, food, or drinks contaminated by small, undetected amounts of stool from an infected person. The virus is often spread when people do not wash their hands properly or do not have access to proper restroom facilities. Individuals should wash their hands often and particularly after using the restroom or before consuming food. Alcohol based hand sanitizers are not effective against this virus and should only be used when soap and water are not available.

Symptoms can include: jaundice (yellowing of skin or eyes), nausea, vomiting, fever, diarrhea, fatigue/tired, loss of appetite, stomach pain, dark-colored urine, pale or clay colored stool. Symptoms usually start within 28 days of exposure to the virus with a range of 15 to 50 days.

An infected person is most contagious during the 14 days before symptoms start and for 1 week after onset of jaundice. Individuals who have had close contact with a person diagnosed with hepatitis A (i.e. shared bathroom, bunked together, consumed food handled by an infected person) should be offered post-exposure treatment within 14 days of exposure.

Local and state public health officials recommend residents of Warren County over the age of one year get vaccinated against hepatitis A. Hepatitis A vaccine is available at local pharmacies and health care providers. Individuals should consult with their primary care doctor or insurance carrier regarding an in-network provider. For additional information about the hepatitis A vaccination, please visit www.cdc.gov/hepatitis/hav/afaq.htm

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