Louisville records first hepatitis A death as state continues battling outbreak

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – A Jefferson County resident has died after contracting hepatitis A.

The announcement came from Louisville Metro Department of Public Health and Wellness Tuesday afternoon as the state continues to battle an outbreak of acute hepatitis A among the the city’s homeless and drug users.

The person who died has not been identified, but officials say the victim had other health issues whose symptoms and lab results met the case definition of acute hepatitis A infection.

Kentucky declared an outbreak of acute hepatitis A in several counties on Nov. 21. So far, there have have been 150 cases in Kentucky — and 124 of those cases were in Louisville.

Officials with Louisville Metro Department of Public Health and Wellness said they started noticing a few cases last August. By November, the county documented at least 30 cases.

Director Lori Caloia said the state of Kentucky usually only see 20 cases each year.

“For the outbreak itself, the at-risk populations are a little bit different than what the CDC’s website would say,” Caloia said.

The department is focused on vaccinating as many people in the high-risk categories, including the homeless and drug users, as possible. Caloia said it’s a misconception that drug users will avoid getting Hepatitis A if they avoid using needles.

“It’s not just IV drug use,” she said. “Hepatitis B and C are spread through IV use, but Hepatitis A is spread more through contact with contaminated surfaces.”

Hepatitis A is a disease that affects the liver. It is preventable with a vaccine, and is usually transmitted person-to-person through contaminated surfaces.

Caloia said the spread of the virus could start once someone with Hepatitis A does not properly wash his or her hands and then touches any surface, object, food or liquid.

“It’s the fecal-oral route,” Caloia said. “So someone has perhaps used the bathroom and has hepatitis A, they may wash their hands but may have contaminated a surface. Someone else touches that same surface, and they can contract the virus.”

She says common symptoms include nausea, vomiting, abdominal or stomach pain, jaundice or yellowing of the skin or eyes, light-colored stool, dark-colored urine, fever, chills and body aches.

“Hepatitis A is more of an acute illness, typically,” Caloia said. “So you get sick, you get pretty sick all at once. And then you tend to recover and get better pretty rapidly.”

Caloia warned that hepatitis A can be deadly for those with liver conditions.

The best way to prevent hepatitis A infection is to get vaccinated.

The department is offering free hepatitis A vaccines to at-risk groups, including the homeless and drug users.

Since November, the department has given nearly 6,000 hepatitis A immunizations at homeless shelters, homeless camps, recovery houses and at agencies such as Family Health Centers’ Phoenix Health Center. It has also provided immunizations at Metro Corrections, both at intake and in the general population.

Plus immunizations are being provided at the health department’s syringe exchange sites, its Specialty Clinic and at the MORE Center.

In addition, the University of Louisville pharmacy has been providing immunizations for first responders at agencies such as EMS, Public Works and Louisville Fire, and the health department is also working with Kroger Little Clinics and Walgreen’s to immunize other first responders.

The department is encouraging other Kentucky residents to contact their doctors or pharmacists for the vaccine.

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