Fayette County becomes 11th Kentucky county to recommend that all its residents be vaccinated for hepatitis A

As the number of hepatitis A cases continues to climb in Kentucky, health officials in Fayette County are recommending all Lexington residents get vaccinated, Mike Stunson and Karla Ward report for the Lexington Herald-Leader.

“The best way to prevent hepatitis A is to get vaccinated,” said Dr. Kraig Humbaugh, the Fayette County health commissioner. “The vaccine is effective and has an excellent track record. However, most adults have not yet been immunized, since the vaccine was not given routinely as part of their childhood schedule of shots.” The state recently required all students to prove that they have had the two-dose hepatitis A vaccine.

As of Sept. 1, there have been 1,628 cases of hepatitis A in the state since November. That number includes 919 hospitalizations and 13 deaths, according to the state Department of Public Health. The weekly report also offers county level data. Since August, 86 of the state’s 120 counties have reported an “outbreak-associated case.”

The Lexington-Fayette County Health Department has reported 12 cases since Aug. 1, 2017, with half of those cases being reported since July, including three this month.

“Humbaugh said a significant percentage of those who have contracted the disease statewide were not part of an at-risk population,” the Herald-Leader reports. He said, “We wanted to wait until we thought there was a concern about transmission to the wider community.”

In April, the state health department urged citizens of six counties, including Jefferson, Bullitt, Hardin, Greenup, Carter and Boyd, to get vaccinated for hepatitis A. The Northern Kentucky Health Department urged residents of its Boone, Grant, Kenton and Campbell counties to do the same in August.

The primary risk factors in Kentucky continue to be illicit drug use and homelessness, and so far the state has had no reported transmissions of hepatitis A involving food-service workers.

Dr. Jeffrey Howard, the state health commissioner, told Kentucky Health News that the state health department gets a lot of calls from people who are worried about eating out and said his advice is: “You are OK to go out to eat in your local restaurants. The risk of getting hepatitis A from an infected food worker as long as they are adhering to normal precautions is very minimal.”

Howard added that he expects the epidemic to last another eight to 12 months in Kentucky.

Symptoms of hepatitis A include fever, fatigue, loss of appetite, nausea, abdominal discomfort, dark urine and yellowing of the skin and eyes (jaundice). Not everyone with the virus has symptoms and a person with the virus is contagious for up to two weeks before showing symptoms. People can become ill 15 days to 50 days after being exposed to the virus, the health department said.

The disease is “usually spread when a person unknowingly eats or drinks something contaminated by small amounts of stool from an infected person,” according to the health department.

Besides vaccination, thorough hand washing for about 20 seconds with soap and water after using the bathroom, before eating and when returning home from being out in the public is also an important way to decrease the risk of transmission. It’s also important to note that hand gels are not an alternative because they do not kill the virus that causes hepatitis A.