In an effort to halt a hepatitis A outbreak in Jefferson County, Louisville Metro Department of Public Health & Wellness officials sent an email encouraging the owners and managers of local food establishments to “be vigilant” of their employees’ hygiene and sanitation practices.
The Wednesday afternoon email noted that as of this week, 43 cases of hepatitis A have been recorded in Jefferson County. That is up from 37 cases just two weeks ago, according to the health department. Typically, Jefferson County only sees one to two cases a year.
The email stated that those at the most risk to contract hepatitis A are the homeless, drug users and those who work with those populations on a regular basis.
“The risk of Hepatitis A infection is associated with poor sanitation and hygiene and is transmitted through ingestion of contaminated food and drink or through direct contact with an infectious person,” according to the email. “The virus can live for months in a contaminated environment, particularly in the absence of good sanitation.”
Infected food workers should never touch ready-to-eat food with their bare hands and should carefully wash their hands after using the bathroom, the email states. Food workers also should not work if they have gastrointestinal illnesses.
If a food worker was infected and did not follow proper hygienic measures, “that could be potentially catastrophic, so we want them to do the things they already should be doing,” said Dr. Lori Caloia, the medical director at the Louisville Metro Department of Public Health and Wellness.
The email was sent to remind food establishment managers and owners to ensure employees are following standards set out by the health department. People in those at-risk groups also are encouraged to get vaccinated.
The Kentucky Department for Public Health declared an outbreak of hepatitis A in late November.
“Since the outbreak was declared, our focus has been on vaccinating those most at risk — the homeless and people who use drugs through the syringe exchange program, drug treatment programs, Metro Corrections and our partnership with the Homeless Coalition. To date we have administered more than 977 vaccines to those at risk populations,” Kathy Harrison Turner, director of communications and community relations with the Louisville health department, told Insider in an email in late December.
“We are also encouraging anyone who has close contact with those high-risk populations to get vaccinated through their health care providers and local pharmacies,” she added.
The Affordable Care Act mandates that the vaccine, along with other preventive vaccines, should be given without a copay or coinsurance.
Kentucky isn’t the only state facing an outbreak. The state of California declared an outbreak on March 17. As of Dec. 29, 2017, there’d been 683 cases reported in California and 21 deaths. Southeast Michigan also is experiencing an outbreak, with 583 cases and 20 deaths since August 2016.