Hepatitis A virus | Courtesy Wikimedia

Louisville’s hepatitis A outbreak has now topped 450 cases and claimed three lives, according to local health officials.

An employee of the Jimmy John’s restaurant at 332 W. Broadway is among the latest food service workers to be diagnosed with hepatitis A.

People who ate at that Jimmy John’s from May 31 to June 6 may have been exposed to the hepatitis A virus and should be on the lookout for symptoms such as fatigue and stomach pain, according to the Louisville Metro Department of Public Health and Wellness.

The case was announced less than a week after a similar notice that an employee of the Speedway at 5400 Antle Drive had been diagnosed with the contagious liver disease. People who ate prepared foods such as pizza, hot dogs and breakfast sandwiches at the business from May 15 to 31 may have been exposed.

Those are just two of the most recent cases reported as part of a hepatitis A outbreak that has led to at least 456 cases in Louisville and multiple deaths, according to the health department. Locally, about 16 food service workers, mostly based in restaurants, have been infected.

The deaths occurred in March, April and May, and all of the individuals had other illnesses, the health department noted. It declined to release the sex or age of the individuals.

Foodborne transmission has not been a factor in Louisville, said Dr. Lori Caloia, the department’s medical director, in a news release. But more than 5,700 food service workers in the area have been vaccinated as a precaution.

The virus can be spread when a person comes in contact with food, drinks or objects contaminated by the feces of an infected person. Having close personal contact with an infected person, whether it be through sex or using the same drug paraphernalia, also puts people at risk.

Louisville’s hepatitis A outbreak mainly has impacted people who are homeless or use illegal drugs. | Courtesy of Flickr

In Louisville, “the virus continues to be transmitted person-to-person, primarily among those who use illegal drugs and the homeless,” Caloia said in the release.

The Jimmy John’s store owner, Zach Irle, released a statement saying that upon learning of its hepatitis case, “we immediately began working with the Louisville Metro Department of Public Health and Wellness to ensure there was no further risk of exposure at our store. The infected individual will remain at home until fully cleared by doctors to return to work, and we will continue to monitor the situation closely. The health and safety of our customers is our top priority.”

The hepatitis A virus also has been a problem in various parts of the state, as well as other parts of the country.

A June 11 alert from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention noted that, from January 2017 to April 2018, the CDC received more than 2,500 reports of hepatitis A infections from person-to-person transmission across multiple states. Many of the infected persons reported drug use, homelessness or both.

Most people who get hepatitis A are sick for several weeks but usually recover without long-term liver damage, according to the CDC. Symptoms include decreased appetite, dark urine, pale stools and yellowing of the skin and eyes.

“In rare cases, hepatitis A can cause liver failure and death; this is more common in people older than 50 and in people with other liver diseases,” according to the CDC.

Throughout Louisville, more than 75,000 people have been vaccinated against hepatitis A, according to the health department.

Along with promoting vaccination, the health department encourages good hygiene.

“Washing your hands thoroughly and often with warm water and soap, especially before preparing meals or eating, after using the bathroom or changing a diaper, is a proven way to prevent the spread of diseases,” Caloia said in the release. “Hand sanitizer is not as effective as hand washing against hepatitis A.”

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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