The Fayette County Health Department recommends all Lexington residents get hepatitis A vaccinations because the number of cases in the county, region and state continues to climb.
The health department announced the push for vaccines Tuesday. It comes after the state required the immunizations for children attending school or day care.
Fayette County has had 12 hepatitis A cases reported since Aug. 1, 2017, the local health department said. Half of those cases have been reported since July, including three this month.
“The best way to prevent hepatitis A is to get vaccinated,” Fayette Commissioner of Health Dr. Kraig Humbaugh said. “The vaccine is effective and has an excellent track record. However, most adults have not yet been immunized since the vaccine was not given routinely as part of their childhood schedule of shots.”
The details of just one of Fayette County’s hepatitis A cases were previously disclosed publicly. In May, a case was confirmed at Lexington’s Millcreek Elementary School, the local health department said, but it did not reveal if the infected patient was a student or staff member.
Humbaugh said Tuesday that none of the cases that have been reported in Fayette County are thought to have involved food service workers.
As of Sept. 1, there have been 1,628 cases of hepatitis A in the state since November. The number includes 919 hospitalizations and 13 deaths, according to data from the state health department. The Kentucky outbreak was the largest in the country, the health department said in July.
“People need to understand that it can be a serious disease,” Humbaugh said.
Symptoms of hepatitis A include fever, fatigue, loss of appetite, nausea, abdominal discomfort, dark urine and yellowing of the skin and eyes. People can become ill 15 days to 50 days after being exposed to the virus, the health department said.
The disease is “usually spread when a person unknowingly eats or drinks something contaminated by small amounts of stool from an infected person,” according to the health department.
Besides vaccination, Humbaugh said consistent, thorough hand washing is also an important means of preventing transmission.
The health department has urged local health care providers and pharmacies to offer the vaccine, which Humbaugh said is covered by Medicaid and most private insurers. The health department also offers the vaccine.
Children under one year old cannot get the vaccine.
To avoid more hepatitis A cases, some organizations and other counties have required or urged adults to get the vaccines, which is given in two doses six months apart. Kentucky children were required to have proof of vaccinations when the latest school year started.
In July, Lexington’s Catholic Action Center said it would not allow people who have not had a hepatitis A vaccination to stay there. They offered free vaccinations for those who wanted to stay at the shelter, co-founder Ginny Ramsey said.
People who are homeless, have been recently incarcerated or are intravenous drug users are at higher risk for the disease.
But Humbaugh said a significant percentage of those who have contracted the disease statewide were not part of an at-risk population.
“We wanted to wait until we thought there was a concern about transmission to the wider community” before urging all Fayette countians get vaccinated, he said Tuesday.
In April, the Kentucky Health Department urged citizens of six counties, including Jefferson, to get vaccinated for hepatitis A. The Northern Kentucky Health Department urged its residents to do the same in August.
Before the Kentucky Derby, Indiana health officials advised their residents to get a vaccination if they planned on visiting Kentucky.