State health officials have linked a hepatitis A outbreak in Kentucky to an increase in cases of the infectious liver disease in Southern Indiana.
Since January Indiana has seen 40 cases of hepatitis A, twice the number seen in a typical year in the state. In the past month alone, 17 cases of hepatitis A have been confirmed, 11 of those in Clark and Floyd counties.
The Louisville area also has seen a dramatic rise in hepatitis A cases in recent months, with more than 115 cases since November 2017.
A viral infection of the liver, hepatitis A is passed through the dreaded fecal-oral route. Typically individuals contract the disease by consuming food prepared or served by someone who is infected. Hepatitis A also can be picked up through sex with an infected person or by touching objects with small amounts of fecal matter left by an infected person, as well as by sharing drugs.
Four states, including Kentucky, are experiencing hepatitis A outbreaks.
In Indiana, many of the cases diagnosed have been among inmates in the Clark County jail. Cases also have been found in an elementary school in Clark County and a Bob Evans restaurant in New Albany, state health officials said in a statement Monday.
Often infected food service workers spread hepatitis A.
“Hepatitis A is a highly contagious virus, and seeing this many cases in such a short time frame is concerning,” said State Health Commissioner Kris Box in a news release. “We are working closely with our local partners to identify individuals who may have been exposed and to halt the transmission of disease.”
Unlike other types of hepatitis, a vaccine exists against hepatitis A. Since the advent of the vaccine, the United States has seen a 90 percent decrease in the number of cases, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Schoolchildren in Indiana have been required to be vaccinated since 2014, so those in third grade and younger are likely to have been vaccinated.
More than 5,700 people have been vaccinated in Louisville since the start of that city’s outbreak.
While a person infected with hepatitis A may not experience any symptoms, others may have nausea, jaundice, fever, fatigue, loss of appetite, stomach distress, dark urine and grey stools. Symptoms can last for several weeks, but unlike other types of hepatitis do not typically cause lasting damage to the liver.
Infection can occur anywhere from 11 to 50 days after a person has been exposed to the virus.