The Madison County Health Department (MCHD) declared a hepatitis A outbreak for Madison County Wednesday, after 15 people were diagnosed since the beginning of the month. 

“Hepatitis A is a contagious liver disease that is usually spread when a person unknowingly eats or drinks something contaminated by small amounts of stool from an infected person,” the MCHD website states.

Jim Thacker, the public information officer and communications manager for MCHD said interest for the vaccine is increasing  county-wide. A range of people in their early 20s to late 60s has been coming to receive their vaccinations, Thacker said. 

“For the first two and a half days after we declared the outbreak, the phones were ringing off the hook. We’ve received a lot of phone calls last week and the interest in the county is definitely going up,” Thacker said. 

The announcement of an outbreak in Madison County was a part of a declared statewide outbreak, with approximately 2,050 cases reported across 91 counties. Twenty-four of those cases were reported in Madison County as of last week. 

In a press release from the MCHD website, Madison County Public Health Director Nancy Crewe said, “We have always known that Madison County would eventually declare outbreak status due to the nature of the statewide situation, which is why we have been so proactive in our efforts to vaccinate the at-risk populations in the county. These efforts should have a mitigating effect on the severity of the outbreak. We certainly don’t think there is any need for panic, but it is important that we get the word out to our citizens and encourage them to get the vaccine.”

Hepatitis A can spread when an infected person does not wash his or her hands after using the restroom and touches objects or food, engages in sexual intercourse with an infected person or changes the diapers or cleans up the stool of an infected person.

Anyone is susceptible to the hepatitis A virus, but those at a greater risk are people who use recreational drugs, have clotting disorders, are men who have sexual encounters with other men or have sexual contact with someone with hepatitis A. 

Symptoms include fever, fatigue, loss of appetite, nausea, joint pain, severe stomach pains and jaundice. Symptoms can appear after the person is exposed and last less than two months.  Infected people can be sick for up to six months. 

Although rare, hepatitis A can cause liver failure or even death. Fourteen deaths have occured in Kentucky and over half of the reported cases have warranted hospitalization. 

Thacker said to his knowledge, there are no EKU students, faculty or employees who have been reported to be infected with the virus. Thacker “absolutely recommends” everyone get the vaccine. The sooner the better he says, especially given the outbreak status. 

The vaccine is administered with two doses over a six-month period for long-lasting protection against the virus and is similar to that of receiving a flu shot. 

“A big concept in public health is called ‘herd immunity,’ which is the idea that if enough of the population is vaccinated— those people who can’t be vaccinated because of an allergy or whatever the case— the people who are vaccinated create a wall of immunity that protects those people,” Thacker said.

Thacker said one thing MCHD stresses is for people who have health insurance to see their primary care physician or any local pharmacy (Meijer, Kroger, Walgreens, etc.). He said  MCHD concentrates on making sure those who are uninsured can receive vaccines. 

Patrese Nesbitt, health services manager for Student Health Services, said they are not yet offering a hepatitis A vaccine, and wwhether or not they will is “up in the air.” 

Student Health Services does offer a vaccine for Hepatitis B, a virus that causes serious liver disease. The vaccine requires three doses over time and costs $60 per dose, totaling $180.

Nesbitt said health services is encouraging students to get their vaccine through local pharmacies or MCHD. 

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