Hepatitis A vaccine | Courtesy National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases

As Kentucky continues to battle an outbreak of acute hepatitis A, the state Department for Public Health is spending about $340,000 to provide 10 counties, including Jefferson, with a total of 10,000 doses of vaccine, according to the department.

Each of the counties will receive 1,000 doses of vaccine to help protect people against the outbreak that has led to at least 629 cases statewide since last fall, the department said.

“It definitely helps because we do not believe that the outbreak has peaked yet,” said Kathy Harrison Turner, a spokeswoman for the Louisville Metro Department of Public Health and Wellness.

Each of the counties receiving vaccine from the state has had at least four cases of hepatitis A, a contagious disease that can lead to inflammation of the liver. It’s usually spread when a person unknowingly ingests the virus from objects, food or drinks contaminated by small, undetected amounts of stool from an infected person, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In addition to Jefferson, the counties getting vaccine are Boyd, Bullitt, Carter, Greenup, Hardin, McCracken, Meade, Montgomery and Warren, according to the state.

The Department for Public Health “worked directly with pharmaceutical manufacturers to obtain special pricing for these doses,” spokesman Doug Hogan said in an email.

Most of Kentucky’s cases have occurred in Jefferson County, which has had nearly 400 cases despite efforts by Public Health and Wellness and its community partners to vaccinate thousands of people in the community.

“If you live in an outbreak area, be sure that you get vaccinated,” Dr. Jeffrey D. Howard Jr., the state’s acting Public Health commissioner, said in a Facebook Live presentation earlier this week. He also encouraged washing of the hands with soap and water.

The state held a Facebook Live discussion on hepatitis A earlier this week.

In Louisville, the vaccine from the state will be used to continue targeting high-risk people, such as people who are homeless, use recreational drugs or are men who have sex with men, Turner said. Food service workers also are considered a priority.

In recent months, several workers at restaurants and groceries in Louisville have been diagnosed with hepatitis A, and a joint effort has been made by Public Health and Wellness and the University of Louisville’s Global Health Center to reach people doing that type of work. More than 5,100 food service workers have been vaccinated so far, Turner said.

Members of the general public should seek out the vaccine from their health care provider or other community provider, such as a pharmacy or clinic that offers it. “Call your insurance company to make sure you go exactly where they want you to go,” said Turner, adding, “There’s no shortage” of vaccine.

Symptoms include fatigue, fever, vomiting, abdominal pain, dark urine, clay-colored stools and yellowing of the eyes and skin.

“Most people will see symptoms two weeks after exposure,” Howard said. However, “you could be contagious … two weeks before you have symptoms, so that tends to be why this virus spreads.”

Most people who get hepatitis A are sick for several weeks but usually recover without long-term liver damage, according to CDC. “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.”

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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