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As Louisville’s hepatitis A outbreak was picking up steam earlier this year, more than 200 nurses stepped up to help protect the community by administering vaccinations to thousands of food service workers.

“There was no payment. It was strictly, ‘This is my community and we’re doing what we do to help our community,’ ” said Ruth Carrico, clinical director of the UofL Physicians Vaccine and International Travel Center. “How often does that happen?”

Thursday, an event will be held on the University of Louisville Health Sciences Campus to help thank the nurses and other health care providers for their service — while treating them and the public to some good food.

“Without nurses, we’d be in a heap of trouble,” said Carrico, an associate professor in the UofL Division of Infectious Diseases.

The event, A Taste of Health, will be 6 p.m.-8 p.m. at the UofL Kosair Charities Clinical and Translational Research Building, 505 S. Hancock St. Proceeds will go toward things like scholarship funds, education and research as well as vaccine supplies.

University of Louisville Physicians — Infectious Diseases, the Kentucky Nurses Association and the Kentucky Restaurant Association are hosting the event, which will include healthy food options from more than 20 restaurants and local grocers.

“It’s our way of saying, look, continue to be comfortable eating out, and come and participate,” said Carrico, a family nurse practitioner.

The event will help to recognize the role of volunteers in combating Louisville’s hepatitis A outbreak. Kentucky has the worst outbreak in nation, and Louisville has contributed about 540 cases and at least four deaths.

Several other states are also dealing with the contagious liver infection. But the Louisville Metro Department of Public Health & Wellness recently reported that the number of local hepatitis A cases per day has been dropping, and state and federal health officials have praised the department’s response.

“It looks like the numbers are starting to go down, but that’s purely because of the amount of effort they’ve done to get those vaccinations out there,” Doug Thoroughman, of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said at a news conference last week. “ … I think that’s really good for a city this size.”

Dave Langdon, a spokesman for Public Health & Wellness, said Monday, “Volunteer nurses have been instrumental in making this happen.”

Nurses have fueled a joint vaccination effort by Public Health & Wellness and the University of Louisville’s Global Health Center that has reached more than 6,000 food service workers.

“What I would love to see is a big billboard on the side of the road, saying, you know, really, Kentucky’s nurses, without your help, we would not be where we are now with this response,” Carrico said. “There simply is no other workforce, other than nurses, that could help make this happen.”

Working with the Derby City chapter of the Kentucky Nurses Association, nurses were recruited to go to about 70 restaurants to give shots over a period of about five weeks last spring. They worked in collaboration with a team of about 25 people from the UofL Division of Infectious Diseases.

As demand increased, a clinic was set up to handle more food service workers seeking shots. “This was done with nurses and we used faculty and nursing students because at one point we were seeing 200 people a day for vaccinations, so this was not a little effort,” Carrico said.

Hepatitis A can be picked up from contaminated foods, beverages and objects — as well as close personal contact with an infected person — but the risk of getting it from eating out is very low, state and local health officials have said.

Carrico praised area restaurants that stepped up to get their workers vaccinated to protect themselves and the public.

“Against the Grain, the brewery down by Slugger Field, they were one of the first, and they really ignited the interest by a lot of the breweries” as well as some other small establishments,” Carrico said. “We’ve had a lot of great participation. It just takes a few community leaders to step forward.”

A Taste of Health is $45 for members of the Kentucky Nurses Association and $50 for others.

Darla Carter is a hometown girl who recently joined the staff of Insider Louisville to mostly cover health. She previously served as a longtime health and fitness writer for The Courier-Journal, where she also worked for the Metro, Neighborhoods and Features departments. Prior to that, the award-winning journalist wrote for newspapers elsewhere in Kentucky and Tennessee, covering a range of topics, from education to courts. She's a graduate of Western Kentucky University, where she studied journalism and philosophy, and is the proud mom of two young children.


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