Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Hepatitis A cases continue to spread across state; proper hand-washing and a vaccine are best ways to prevent it

New cases of hepatitis A, a highly contagious liver disease, continue to be reported in Kentucky, with 43 new cases and one death being reported between April 22 and April 28, according to the Kentucky Department for Public Health.

Since August, the health department has reported 448 cases and four deaths. The state averages about 20 cases a year.

Of the 448 cases, 11 have been in Hardin County, and four each in Nelson and Meade counties, department spokesman Donny Gill told Jeff D'Alessio of The News-Enterprise in Elizabethtown.

“It’s still steadily progressing upward and that’s not what we want,’’ Gill said. “Just a trace amount and you can come in contact with it. It’s a strong virus that lives outside of your body for a long time.’’

Hepatitis A is found in the feces of people with the disease and is most frequently transmitted by eating or drinking something that has been contaminated with fecal matter -- typically because the food or beverage has been handled by someone with the virus that hasn't properly washed their hands after going to the toilet. It is also spread by drinking contaminated water, sex, and illicit drug use. The Mayo Clinic notes that it does not spread through sneezing or coughing.

“It can get on surfaces and you never know if it’s there or not,” Gill told D'Alessio. “The contact doesn’t have to be person-to-person.”

For example, the Louisville Metro Health Department writes in a tweet:  "Hep. is spread when someone with the virus shares a cigarette, drink, joint, towel, sex with you."

The most common symptoms of hepatitis A are fatigue, low-grade fever, loss of appetite, joint pain, sudden nausea and vomiting, yellow eyes or skin, abdominal pain, pale stools and dark urine, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. A person with the virus is contagious for up to two weeks before showing symptoms.

D'Alessio reports that of the 11 people in Hardin County with the disease, none have been identified as restaurant workers. To date, a food transmitter has not been identified in any Kentucky outbreaks.

Most of the state's cases so far have been among the state's homeless and drug users, says the DPH website.

Louisville's health department also posted a tweet that says an employee of Texas Roadhouse at 13321 Shelbyville Road had been diagnosed with hepatitis A and that anyone who ate there between April 11 and April 25 should monitor for symptoms through June 14 as they may have been exposed to the virus.

On May 8, WSAZ-TV reported that an employee who handled food at the Dairy Queen on 13th Street in Ashland was diagnosed with hepatitis A.

"The investigation found that the risk of restaurant patrons becoming infected is very low," health officials stated in a press release. "Dairy Queen is working with the health department to prevent any new cases from arising in the community as a result of this case."

"This makes the fifth food worker in Boyd County diagnosed with the disease this year during this multistate outbreak," reports the station in Huntington, W.Va.

The CDC notes that hepatitis A is very hard to kill, and can live outside the body. It recommends hand washing with soap and water after using the bathroom or changing diapers, and before preparing or eating food, are the best ways to prevent an infection. A vaccine for the disease is also available.

The state health department has recommended hepatitis A vaccination for everyone in Jefferson, Bullitt, Hardin, Greenup, Carter and Boyd counties.

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