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Five cases of Hepatitis A confirmed locally since 2017

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‘The odds of someone catching Hepatitis A from someone who works in food service is minimal.’

By Zac Oakes

 

A recent release from the Lake Cumberland District Health Department stated there have been five confirmed cases of Hepatitis A in Taylor County since August 2017, although none of the cases involve food service employees, according to LCDHD Senior Epidemiologist Amanda England. 

One of those cases occurred last year and four have been confirmed over the course of this year, according to LCDHD. 

Kentucky has recently been hit with an outbreak of Hepatitis A, the worst in the country, with 1,094 cases of acute hepatitis A as of July 7, according to England. 

Before the recent outbreak, Kentucky averaged just 20 cases of Hepatitis A annually. 

Concerns have been raised on social media about individuals infected with Hepatitis A working in food service, particularly with several cases of restaurant workers in the Louisville area being diagnosed with Hepatitis A, as well as a recent instance in Adair County. 

As a general precautionary measure, health departments regularly notify the public of these instances, although England said contracting Hepatitis A through a food service employee is not common. 

“The odds of a person contracting Hepatitis A from someone who works in food service is minimal,” she said. “… No case of Hepatitis A in the current Kentucky outbreak has been associated with food service establishments.” 

Kentucky Commissioner of Public Health Dr. Jeff Howard told The Courier Journal “this is not a food-borne outbreak.”

Howard also said the risk of contracting Hepatitis A through a contaminated food service worker is relatively low, particularly if the employee wears gloves and washes their hands. 

The outbreak, according to England, is occurring primarily within specific at-risk populations. This includes individuals using illicit drugs (both injection and non-injection) and the homeless, she added, as well as through person-to-person transmission. 

However, England also noted that 19 percent of cases involve individuals who do not have any of the risk factors. 

 

What is Hepatitis A?

According to the United States Center for Disease Control, “Hepatitis A is a highly contagious liver infection caused by the Hepatitis A virus. It can range from a mild illness lasting a few weeks to a severe illness lasting several months. Although rare, Hepatitis A can cause death in some people.” 

Hepatitis A differs from other forms of hepatitis such as Hepatitis B and C in that it is usually a short-term infection that does not become chronic. 

Most people who get Hepatitis A feel sick for several weeks, but they usually recover completely and do not have lasting liver damage. In rare cases, Hepatitis A can cause liver failure and death; this is more common in people older than 50 and in people with other liver diseases, according to the CDC. 

 

How is it spread? What preventative measures can be taken?  

Hepatitis A usually spreads when a person unknowingly ingests the virus from objects, food or drinks contaminated by small, undetected amounts of stool from an infected person, according to the CDC. Hepatitis A can also spread from close personal contact with an infected person such as through sex or caring for someone who is ill.

The Lake Cumberland District Health Department and Kentucky Department for Public Health recommend individuals wash their hands often and particularly after using the restroom or before consuming food. Hand sanitizer should be used only when soap and water is unavailable.

Through proper hand washing and vaccinations, individuals can be protected from Hepatitis A. 

“Proper hand washing and Hepatitis A vaccine are the two best measures to prevent Hepatitis A,” England said. 

 

Where can you get vaccinated? 

Local and state health officials recommend everyone to get the Hepatitis A vaccine as a precautionary measure, although proper hand-washing can drastically reduce the chances of becoming infected. 

Vaccines are available at the Taylor County Health Department for anyone who would like to be vaccinated. Vaccines are also available at most local health providers and pharmacies. Most insurance providers cover Hepatitis A vaccines, although people are encouraged to double check with their insurance providers to make sure it is covered. 

The Hepatitis A vaccine is a two-part vaccine, where the second part has to be administered six months after the first part. However, the first part of the vaccine is effective in preventing infection until time for the second part. 

Studies are continuing to provide a better idea of how long the Hepatitis A vaccine is effective, but most estimates gather that the vaccine is effective for at least 25 years in adults and 14-20 years in children, according to the Immunization Action Coalition. 

 

For more information about Hepatitis A, visit the CDC’s website at cdc.gov, Lake Cumberland District Health Department’s website at www.lcdhd.org, or contact the Taylor County Health Department at 270-465-4191 or the Lake Cumberland District Health Department at 606-678-4761.