FRANKFORT — The number of Hepatitis A cases in Kentucky may be dropping, but a team of public health nurses continue traveling the state, vaccinating those who are part of the at-risk population.
The Kentucky Department for Public Health has deployed a strike team of nurses to administer Hepatitis A vaccines at jails and other locations.
Since April, the team has provided more than 2,100 vaccines at 40 different sites across Kentucky. They include county jails, probation and parole offices, homeless shelters, treatment centers and pharmacies; as the state works with local partners on harm reduction programs, aimed at reaching those who are most at risk. Nearly 20 more such events are scheduled through August.
“We are grateful for the dedication of the nurses who are members of our strike team,” said Public Health Commissioner Dr. Jeffrey Howard. “Their dedication to ensuring the at-risk population receive preventive vaccination is paramount to our overall response to this outbreak."
The Department for Public Health identified an outbreak of acute Hepatitis A in November 2017. Since then, the total number of cases has reached 4,766, with 48% of them requiring hospitalization. There have also been 58 deaths linked to Hepatitis A in Kentucky.
State health officials have issued reports on the number of new cases weekly, and while that number peaked at 151 in October 2018, only ten cases were reported in the latest report, which is for the week ending June 29.
The outbreak began in Jefferson County, yet Kentucky was the first state to experience a large, rural spread of the disease, and Howard says they found it especially challenging to reach the at-risk population there.
“One reason is the stigma associated with substance use disorder,” he stated. “In some of our rural communities, more than 80% of hepatitis A cases have occurred in those with SUD. Due to that stigma, the at-risk population is often hesitant to seek preventative care.”
Like the outbreaks in other states, the primary risk factors in Kentucky have been illicit drug use and homelessness. A contaminated food source has not been identified, and transmission of the virus is believed to have occurred through person-to-person contact.
The top five counties in terms of the number of Hep A cases are Jefferson with 660, Laurel 224, Fayette 205, Whitley 198 and Boyd 173.
The top five in the number of cases per 100,000 population are Whitley with 546, Carter 467, Magoffin 431, Clay 402 and Floyd 400.
Hepatitis A is a highly contagious liver infection. A doctor can determine if a person has contracted Hepatitis A by discussing his or her symptoms and taking a blood sample.
The Department for Public Health estimates more than 361,500 adults have received the vaccine since November 2017 in Kentucky.
More than $4.5 million in state and federal funding has been allocated towards the response effort.