Saturday, February 3, 2018

New rule says Ky. students need two-dose Hepatitis A vaccine before school starts; the first dose is needed now for compliance

By Melissa Patrick
Kentucky Health News

new state regulation says Kentucky students must prove that they have had the two-dose hepatitis A vaccine by the first day of school, so it's time to get the first dose, because the shots are given six months apart. Most schools start in August.

The regulation also applies to children entering day-care centers, certified family child-care homes and pre-school programs, as well as public and private primary and secondary schools. It also requires home-schooled students who participate in any public or private school activities to be vaccinated.

Because the hepatitis A vaccine is recommended for infants at 12 and 18 months, many Kentucky students may have already received the two-dose vaccine. They would simply need to have their immunization records updated.

In addition to the hepatitis A vaccine, students 16 and older are required to get a meningitis booster, called the Meningococcal ACWY vaccine.

Parents can seek exemptions from immunizations only for religious and medical reasons in Kentucky. A health official at the hearing on this regulation last summer said that less than 2 percent of Kentucky's students have a religious exemption for vaccinations.

The same regulation that added the new vaccine requirements also provided for a new process to obtain a religious exemption form that allows parents to obtain the form online, check the immunizations they object to on religious grounds, and sign the form before a notary public.

Hepatitis A is a highly contagious liver disease caused by a virus. Symptoms can range from mild to severe, and include fever, fatigue, loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, joint pain, stomach pain and diarrhea, or jaundice. In the most severe cases, liver failure and/or death can occur.

The virus spreads primarily when an uninfected person ingests the virus from objects, food or drinks contaminated by small, undetected amounts of stool from an infected person, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. There is no medicine to treat hepatitis A.

In late November, the state Department for Public Health declared an outbreak of acute hepatitis A in the state. Since January 2017, Kentucky has had 86 confirmed cases of the disease, with the largest number among the homeless and intravenous drug users. Thirteen cases have been reported this year. The average number of cases over the past 10 years has been 20, according to the health department.

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