Hep A outbreak on decline but health officials remain vigilant

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FRANKFORT, Ky. (KT) - State health officials reported some good news regarding the Hepatitis A outbreak affecting Kentucky, but aren’t ready to declare it at an end yet.


There has been a significant decline with 29 cases reported during the period April 7-13, 2019, which is the lowest number in just over a year.  Compare that to the period Oct. 28-Nov. 3, 2018, when 151 cases were reported.


While the outbreak was identified by the Department for Public Health in November 2017, for the period from August 1, 2017 to April 13, 2019, the latest date for which figures are available, Kentucky has seen a total of 4,543 cases of Hep A, with cases reported in 107 of Kentucky’s 120 counties.  This has led to 2,199 people being hospitalized and 53 deaths.


Jefferson County, Kentucky’s most populous, has had the most cases at 656, which works out to an incident rate 85 per 100,000 population.  The highest rate is in Whitley County, where 195 cases translates to 538 per 100,000 population.


Homelessness and/or illicit drug use has been identified as risk factors in 81 percent of the Hepatitis A cases, with no outbreak risk factors in the remaining 19 percent.  The majority of the cases have involved those between 20-59 years of age, with the largest spike among those 30-39.


“While cases are declining in a manner consistent with improvement of the outbreak across the state, this is not the time to diminish our efforts,” said Barbara Fox, a Cabinet for Health and Family services spokesperson.  “We continue to aggressively respond to this outbreak and plan to do so well into the foreseeable future.”


She said they are not ready to declare victory.

“The standard way that we declare an outbreak over is to wait two incubation periods past the last outbreak-associated case.  For the current Hepatitis A outbreak, that would be 100 days after the last case that we identify in a Kentucky resident who was exposed in Kentucky.”


Meanwhile, the E. coli outbreak also continues in Kentucky.  Fox says, “W
e are currently reporting 65 confirmed cases of E. coli O103. We are also aware of eight hospitalizations and are working with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and U.S. Food and Drug Administration, who are coordinating the investigation and response and providing them with our data.”


While the CDC has identified ground beef as the cause of the outbreak, Fox says federal agencies are continuing to gather information on identifying the source of the ground beef.  “At this point in time, we have not identified a single restaurant or grocery store within Kentucky that is common to all cases.”

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