State and local health officials are working to contain an outbreak of hepatitis, comprising 31 cases in 13 counties, largely in the Louisville area but also from Paducah to Hyden.
The state Department for Public Health has declared an outbreak of acute hepatitis A, it said in a Nov. 21 news release. The number of cases is "a 50 percent increase above the average of 20 cases per year reported over the past 10 years," the release said. "Jefferson County has had 19 confirmed cases, most of which have occurred since August. Cases have been reported in Jefferson, Shelby, Bullitt, Hardin, Henry, Anderson, Mason, Christian, Madison, Fayette, McCracken, Hopkins, and Leslie counties."
The release added, "Common risk factors of homelessness or drug use have been identified among 12 of the cases in Jefferson County."
No deaths have been attributed to the outbreak, but “Acute hepatitis A is a serious and potentially life-threatening infectious disease,” said Dr. Jonathan Ballard, the state epidemiologist. “We are working to identify anyone who has been exposed to cases associated with this outbreak and urging those experiencing symptoms of the illness to contact their healthcare provider for appropriate evaluation and medical treatment, if necessary.”
Testing has suggested that the strain of hepatitis involved is one associated with outbreaks in California.
Hepatitis A, a liver disease, can be prevented by vaccinations. Children, ages 1 through 18 are recommended to get the vaccine, “as well as adults with increased risk factors or certain medical conditions,” Ballard said. Those factors include homelessness; all forms of substance-use disorder; people with direct contact with someone who has Hepatitis A; travelers to countries where hepatitis A is common; men who have sexual contact with men; household members or caregivers of a recent adoptee from countries where hepatitis A is common; and people with clotting factor disorders, such as hemophilia.
"Other than age-appropriate vaccinations, the best way to keep from getting Hepatitis A is to wash your hands using warm water and soap, to handle uncooked food appropriately and to fully cook food," the release says. "Always wash your hands before touching or eating food, after using the toilet and after changing a diaper. When soap and water are not available, use alcohol-based disposable hand wipes or gel sanitizers."
The signs and symptoms of Hepatitis A include yellowing of the skin or eyes (jaundice), dark urine, fatigue, abdominal pain, loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, gray stools and fever. Not everyone with the virus has symptoms.
"The virus is found in the stool of infected people is usually spread from person to person by putting something in the mouth (even though it might look clean) that has been contaminated with the stool of a person infected with Hepatitis A," the release says. "It is often transmitted when people do not wash their hands properly or by eating uncooked or undercooked food."
Information about Hepatitis A is available from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention at https://www.cdc.gov/hepatitis/hav/index.htm