(Note: This guest post was written by Lori Caloia, MD, medical director for Louisville Metro Department of Public Health and Wellness)
The hepatitis A outbreak continues to grow in Louisville and throughout Kentucky. To date, 392 cases have been identified, and there have been two deaths within Jefferson County. The majority of people in these cases have the common risk factors of recreational drug use – any drug use, not just injection drug use — homelessness and insecure housing. However, about 10% of our cases have no identifiable risk factors. To complicate matters, cases of hepatitis A may go unrecognized. Some people who are infected may not show symptoms, especially early in the disease, and some may not seek medical care when they do.
Hepatitis A is a liver virus found in the stool of people with the infection and spreads when trace amounts of stool are ingested. The two best ways to protect yourself from hepatitis A are to:
- Practice good hand washing with warm water and soap, especially after using the bathroom and before you prepare food or eat; and
- Get vaccinated
The Louisville Metro Department of Public Health and Wellness (LMPHW) recommending community members protect themselves by getting vaccinated. Just one dose gives you almost complete protection in the outbreak setting! Consider how your organization can help in our community and state-wide efforts to reduce barriers to vaccination for both the general community and for the at risk groups in particular. We can all work together to end to this outbreak!
Two other important things to know and share about the hepatitis A virus:
- Hand sanitizer is not as effective at preventing the virus as handwashing
- A person with hepatitis A can be contagious for up to two weeks before they ever show signs or symptoms of illness
There is more information and educational materials about hepatitis A on the LMPHW website. Additionally, answers to frequently asked questions about the hepatitis A vaccine can be found on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevent website.