While the rate of new Hepatitis A cases in Jefferson County is slowing, state and local health officials said Thursday that the rest of Kentucky is seeing an uptick.
The outbreak was declared in November 2017. Since then, Kentucky has had more than 1,000 Hepatitis A cases, with 540 in Louisville. In April, Jefferson County’s average rate of new cases a day was 4.1. This month, it’s down to 1.67 a day.
Hepatitis A is a serious disease that affects the liver. In this outbreak, the rate of hospitalizations is far higher than is typically seen, officials said. And so far, eight people in Kentucky have died after contracting Hepatitis A. Four of those deaths were in Louisville. All were adults with other health issues.
Dough Thoroughman is a career epidemiology field officer for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. He said the Kentucky outbreak, which is the worst in the nation, could last another six to 10 months.
“As Louisville has started to come down, the balance of the rest of the state has skyrocketed so they’re more than making up for it,” Thoroughman said. “So Kentucky as a whole is going to go on for quite a while.”
Officials said the virus is spreading through person-to-person contact. That makes it different from a 1988 Hepatitis A outbreak, which was foodborne, said Dr. Sarah Moyer, director of the Louisville Metro Department of Health and Wellness.
She said thorough hand-washing and getting the Hepatitis A vaccine, which is covered by insurance and available throughout the county, are the best ways to prevent spreading or contracting the virus.
There are a few groups particularly at risk, said Dr. Lori Caloia, medical director of the Department of Public Health and Wellness.
About 62 percent of cases in Louisville were illegal drug users, about 25 percent were homeless people and about 3 percent were men who have sex with men, she said. Officials and advocates have reached those people through subsidized vaccines for food service and restaurant workers, as well as at syringe exchange sites.
Caloia said there have been Hepatitis A cases in every ZIP code throughout Jefferson County.
“I think this just says that there’s no place in Jefferson County that’s not at risk, so regardless of where you live in our county, you should go out and get your vaccine and continue to practice good hand hygiene and good hand-washing practices,” she said.