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Hepatitis A cases diagnosed in McCracken, Ballard

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Hepatitis A cases diagnosed in McCracken, Ballard

By David B. Snow
The Paducah Sun

Three confirmed cases of hepatitis A -- a highly contagious but vaccine-preventable disease spread through physical contact with contaminated objects -- have been found in this area, and one other case is pending confirmation in McCracken County.

Lindsey Cunningham, regional epidemiologist for the Purchase District Health Department, said Kentucky is experiencing an outbreak of the disease, associated with recent outbreaks in California and Utah.

"There are two confirmed cases in Ballard County and one confirmed case in McCracken County," she said. She added that the department was not sure if the local cases were directly related to the current Kentucky outbreak.

According to the Kentucky Department of Public Health, there have been 311 confirmed cases of hepatitis A in Kentucky since Jan. 1, 2017, leading to 218 hospitalizations and one death, as of Thursday. There were 41 cases reported statewide in the week of April 1-7.

Cunningham said the health department has not received any new cases of hepatitis A in the last week, but it is expecting more cases in the near future because the disease is so easily spread.

A death in Ballard County was not caused by hepatitis A, but the disease was a contributing factor in the death, Cunningham said.

The disease is most often spread through oral contact with items contaminated with hepatitis A, usually by ingesting food or drinks contaminated by infected feces.

Symptoms usually develop over a period of several days and may include jaundice (the yellowing of the skin or whites of the eyes), abdominal pain, fever, nausea or diarrhea. Some people do not develop symptoms, even if infected. If symptoms occur, they usually appear anywhere from two to six weeks after exposure.

"When someone is infected with the virus and they go to the restroom, (if) they don't wash their hands properly, they contaminate an object and they contaminate other food," Cunningham said.

"Then, when other healthy people ingest this food that is contaminated or touch this object that is contaminated with the hep A virus, they touch their mouth, wipe their nose, touch their eye - they can become infected that way."

Cunningham said that's why health departments push for good hand-washing hygiene, including washing hands with warm water and soap and scrubbing thoroughly.

"Hand sanitizers are not going to cut it with objects that have the hep A virus," she said. "The hep A virus can contaminate for months. ... We are definitely encouraging vaccination, also."

Cunningham said the hepatitis A vaccine comes in two parts and is available at local health departments.

"If people are interested in getting the vaccine, they need to contact their local health department or their primary care provider or pharmacies," she said. "It is a two-part vaccine, so you have to get the second one within six months."

Kentucky regulations state that new students entering school must be vaccinated before the next school year begins in August.

For more information, visit the CDC website at www.cdc.gov/hepatitis/hav or contact your local health department.

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