A publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Hep A cases double in Lexington; local health department calling for vaccinations

Kentucky Health News

The number of hepatitis A cases in Fayette County more than doubled last month, says the Lexington-Fayette County Health Department. It confirmed 13 cases in September, increasing its total in the year-long statewide outbreak to 24.

Of the total, 13 were from drug use, four were homeless people involved with drug use, and two were people who were in contact with a homeless person affected, department spokesman Kevin Hall told Mike Stunson of the Lexington Herald-Leader.

Four of the cases had no risk factors, “so it’s important for everyone in the community to be aware of the need for the hepatitis A vaccine,” Hall said.

Last month, the health department advised all residents of the county to get vaccinated for the liver disease as the outbreak continued to spread. The vaccine is given in two doses, six months apart.

“The best way to prevent hepatitis A is to get vaccinated,” said Dr. Kraig Humbaugh, the county health commissioner. “The vaccine is effective and has an excellent track record. However, most adults have not yet been immunized, since the vaccine was not given routinely as part of their childhood schedule of shots.”

Health officials also stress the need to wash hands. The disease is “usually spread when a person unknowingly eats or drinks something contaminated by small amounts of stool from an infected person,” the health department says.

As of Sept. 22, there had been 1,851 cases of hepatitis A in Kentucky since November. “The number includes 1,029 hospitalizations and 14 deaths, according to state health department data,” Stunson reports.

Hepatitis A symptoms include fever, fatigue, loss of appetite, nausea, abdominal discomfort, dark urine, and yellowing of the eyes and skin. People can become ill 15 days to 50 days after being exposed to the virus.

The Mayo Clinic and the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say there is no treatment for hepatitis A, “which eventually leaves the body on its own,” Stunson reports. “Some patients’ symptoms, including nausea, are treatable. Some severe cases with more problems require hospitalization. Liver failure can lead to death.”

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