Although it seems recent, Kentucky has actually been experiencing a hepatitis A virus (HAV) outbreak since November 2017 says Pikeville Medical Center Infectious Disease physician and Chief of Staff Dr. Fadi Al Akhrass. Although on a broader level serious precautions are being taken to address this problem, the number of confirmed cases continues to rise. Given the nature of recent exposure, food-service workers, especially, are highly encouraged to get vaccinated.

The Hepatitis A virus is most often transmitted through direct contact with the infected person and eating food or drinking water that has been contaminated. This highly contagious virus can be spread by sharing a cigarette, drink, or towel with someone infected or through sex or drug use.

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the most common symptoms of the virus are fatigue, low-grade fever, loss of appetite, joint and/or muscle pain, sudden nausea and vomiting, yellowing of the eyes or skin, abdominal pain, pale stools and dark urine. It is also important to note that someone infected with the virus can be contagious for up to two weeks without showing symptoms.
“This virus, like many others, is absolutely vaccine-preventable, so the most effective method to protect yourself and others from this outbreak is to become vaccinated,” said Dr. Fadi.

The HAV vaccine should be given in two doses. The initial vaccination provides an immunity boost of over 90 percent and then is followed by another vaccine six months later that gives long-lasting protection. CDC officials recommend that all children a year old and older be vaccinated against hepatitis A.

Hepatitis A is a highly contagious illness and careful and frequent hand washing is crucial in controlling this outbreak. Wash your hands after using the restroom, before eating and before handling food.