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No sign of letup in hepatitis A hotspots

Anyone who was looking for the nationwide rise in Hepatitis A cases to subside by Memorial Day was sorely disappointed.

One of the hottest spots in the country for Hepatitis A  is Kentucky where ten counties are reporting some 692 confirmed cases and six deaths from the highly contagious disease. Each of those ten counties was each slated to receive funding for 1,000 doses of vaccine.

The University of Lousiville and International Travel Clinic have vaccinated about 1,500 food service workers at 75 Lousiville restaurants.   Louisville has also targeted produce workers at area grocery stores for vaccines.   “The outbreak remains centered among those who use drugs–not just IV users–and among the homeless population who have less access to hand washing and hygiene facilities,” said Louisville Metro Department of Health and Wellness spokesman Dave Langdon.

The last serious Hep A outbreak in Louisville occurred in 1988.

The communicable disease of the liver is caused by a virus that brings on fatigue, low appetite, stomach pain and nausea within two months after being infected.  While the current Hepatitis A cases may have started out with homeless populations and drug users, it can easily spread to others from ill restaurant and food service workers.

Michigan has recorded 837 confirmed cases of Hepatitis A since August 2016, resulting in 27 deaths.

Michigan’s may be the worst Hep A outbreak in the U.S. over this period of time.  A check found as many as 35 workers at metro Detroit restaurants were positive for the virus and may have spread it to diners without their knowledge. Like many others, the Wayne County Health Department and City of Detroit’s Health Department are urging the vaccination of all food handlers.

It’s bad enough that Indiana warned Hoosiers not to visit Michigan without being vaccinated.

Michigan recommends all children get vaccinated, beginning as early as age 1. Other adults should get vaccinated if they are:

  • homeless
  • incarcerated
  • using illegal drugs
  • caring for someone with hepatitis A
  • having sex with someone with hepatitis A
  •  a man having sex with other men
  • traveling to countries with high or medium levels of hepatitis A
  • experiencing a chronic liver disease, including cirrhosis, hepatitis B or C.
  • experiencing any clotting-factor disorders.

Anyone exposed to the virus should get vaccinated within 14 days to reduce the likelihood of contracting the virus. Michigan has not yet targeted food handers as a primary target for vaccines, except in high-density areas.

Two West Virginia counties, Kanawha and Putnam, report a total of 80 recent cases of Hepatitis A.   One of those involved a food service worker at O’Charley’s Restaurant and Bar in Barboursville, causing concern for customers who dined at there between May 6 and 13.  Another 14 Hep A cases are reported in Cabell County, WV.

Food Safety News recently contacted health officials in each of the 50 states asking about the incidence of Hepatitis A cases. Not all states provided all of the information requested. Most gave only “preliminary” counts for 2017 and 2018. Those findings can be found here.

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