|Acting Health Commissioner Dr. Jeffrey Howard (left) and|
Cabinet for Health and Family Services spokesman Doug Hogan
talked about the hepatitis A outbreak in a Facebook Live event.
Kentucky Health News
"I don't think there is a necessity to panic, but people do need to be aware that there is an outbreak going on in the state and take appropriate precautions," Dr. Jeffrey Howard, acting commissioner of the Department for Public Health, said during a May 24 Facebook Live event.
Howard offered these suggestions to protect yourself from the disease, which is typically caused by ingesting food or drink that is contaminated with fecal matter: avoid hand-to-mouth contact, get vaccinated and wash your hands with soap and water.
"The most important thing that someone can do in the state of Kentucky right now is wash your hands appropriately," Howard said, which he said means washing your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds and then drying them off.
He added, "Hand gels are not an alternative. They do not kill hepatitis A."
Howard also advised anyone living in Boyd, Bullitt, Carter, Greenup, Hardin, Jefferson, McCracken, Meade, Montgomery and Warren counties, where outbreaks have been identified, to get vaccinated. Immunization requires two vaccines, six months apart.
McCracken, Meade, Montgomery and Warren counties are new to the list this week. Each of these counties have had four or more cases reported, according to the health department.
Howard announced that the department will provide each of the local departments in the 10 counties with money to buy an additional 1,000 doses of the vaccine, a total of 10,000 doses.
He urged vaccination for anyone at high risk for getting the disease: people who use illegal drugs, are homeless or have unstable housing; men who have sex with men; people recently in jail or prison; and people with underlying liver disease.
Howard also advised anyone who works with any of these high-risk populations to get vaccinated, including health care workers, church or ministry workers and volunteers.
To the concerns of some about whether they should eat out or not, Howard said, "We've had zero cases related to a food worker," and the virus in this outbreak is spreading "via contaminated environments," at least for now. The department's website says the increase in cases have primarily been among the homeless and drug users.
Howard added that Kentucky hasn't singled out food workers to get vaccinated, as West Virginia has, because the state's recommendation is for everyone in an outbreak area get vaccinated, which includes food workers.
He encouraged people with insurance to go to their health-care provider or a local pharmacist to get vaccinated, and for those without insurance or in one of the high-risk categories to go to their local health department.
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. A person with the virus is contagious for up to two weeks before showing symptoms and one week after. Symptoms usually last less than two months, but 10 percent to 15 percent of victims remain sick for up to six months.
Howard noted that hepatitis A is "a very rare disease," and that the state normally only has about 20 cases a year. He added that the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is working to figure out why this outbreak is occurring across the country.