Kentucky's acting public health commissioner on Friday issued a statement saying "it is safe to travel to Kentucky and it is safe to attend the Kentucky Derby."
Dr. Jeffrey Howard, acting commissioner of the Kentucky Department of Public Health, said "some misleading information has raised concerns about travel to Kentucky and even the Derby." The U.S. Centers for Disease Control has not recommended vaccinations for people traveling to states with active hepatitis outbreaks and has not levied any travel restrictions.
He said the CDC referred to Kentucky's response to the outbreak as the "gold standard."
Kentucky has had 352 cases of hepatitis A since the outbreak was identified in November. Three people have died, Howard said. Most of the cases have been in Jefferson County.
On Thursday, Indiana's health department took to Facebook to alert residents to outbreaks in states such as Kentucky and Michigan, where the department said more than 800 people have been infected ant 25 have died.
“With popular tourist events coming up in other states, we know many Hoosiers will be traveling to areas impacted by hepatitis A, and we want them to be safe,” Indiana deputy state health commissioner Pam Pontones said in the announcement. “Getting vaccinated and thoroughly washing your hands before and after preparing food and eating and after using the restroom are simple, safe and effective ways to prevent the spread of hepatitis A.”
Howard said in Friday's statement that the risk of contracting hepatitis A through a food worker with the disease is low, and Kentucky has not had any such cases reported.
The Kentucky Department for Public Health has recommended that children and adults in Jefferson, Bullitt, Hardin, Greenup, Carter and Boyd counties be vaccinated for Hepatitis A. Babies under 1 year old are not recommended to receive the vaccine.
The CDC urges vaccines for children and people at special risk of contracting the disease, regardless of where they live.
"Risk factors for cases reported in the current Kentucky outbreak primarily are homelessness and injection drug use," Howard said. "As long as unvaccinated people continue to come in contact with contaminated environments or have at-risk activities, the virus will continue to spread. We have to increase vaccination rates and adherence to good hand hygiene practices to reduce the spread. "
He said the CDC says similar outbreaks have peaked after six to eight months, and Kentucky's likely will last that long as well.
Symptoms of hepatitis A include fever, fatigue, appetite loss, nausea, abdominal pain and jaundice, among others, according to the Centers for Disease Control.