By Greg Bird
McCreary County is still considered to be under a Hepatitis A outbreak, six months after the first cases were reported.
According to the latest figures released by the Lake Cumberland Area Health District McCreary County has 23 confirmed cases of Hepatitis A since November of last year. In the first month of the outbreak, five cases were reported locally. Four new cases were confirmed in December, followed by three new cases in January, February and March. April saw an influx of four new cases, with none in May and one additional confirmation in June.
McCreary’s rate of 12.32 cases per 10,000 people is third-highest in the LCAHD 10-county district, above the state rate of 10.51.
Taylor County is experiencing the highest outbreak in the district, with 80 confirmed cases for a rate of 19.8 per 10,000 people. Pulaski County, with 94 cases, is second with a rate of 14.26 per 10,000 people.
The Center for Disease Control defines an outbreak as: “The occurrence of more cases of disease than expected in a given area or among a specific group of people over a particular period of time.”
Health officials are encouraging everyone to get vaccinated against the preventable disease and to practice regular hand washing – especially before making food and after using the bathroom.
Hepatitis A spreads when a person ingests fecal matter, even tiny amounts, from contaminated food or drink. The liver is the most affected. Health authorities say the people most likely to be infected with hepatitis A are needle-drug users, the homeless, and some men who have sex with men.
Those who are at highest risk, including drug users, people with chronic liver disease, homeless, people who were recently incarcerated or men who have sex with other men – are strongly urged to seek out the vaccination.
Kentucky is leading the nation in Hepatitis A cases with 4,736 cases reported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). There are 58 reported deaths from the outbreak in Kentucky, also the highest number in the country. Kentucky’s total cases nearly double those of the state with the next highest number of confirmed cases – West Virginia – 2,533. Ohio, Tennessee and Indiana are also reporting nearly 2,000 confirmed cases as well. In all 23 states are experiencing an outbreak.
Health Officials say the health district has not identified any contaminated food sources, such as restaurants in the outbreak and believe the disease spread locally through person-to-person contact. Transmission of the virus occurs via oral contact with contaminated hands or objects.
If there were a local restaurant associated with the outbreak the Health District would notify the public and take steps to address the issue at the source, and no case of hepatitis A in the current McCreary outbreak has been associated with food service establishments.
Hepatitis A is a viral infection of the liver that can cause loss of appetite, nausea, tiredness, fever, stomach pain, yellowing of skin and eyes, brown-colored urine and light-colored stools. People may have some or none of these symptoms and it could take up to seven weeks after being exposed to the virus for someone to become ill.
The hepatitis A vaccine is given in two doses, six months apart. The first shot provides short-term protection and the second shot provides long-term protection. The vaccine is available at most doctors’ offices, pharmacies and retail clinics and the local Health Department.