Reports came out earlier this year that Kentucky had the worst outbreak of Hepatitis A in the country, and the largest in state history, with nearly 1,701 cases reported to date, two of those from Daviess County.
Although Daviess County hasn’t seen the outbreak as prevalent as larger areas like Louisville, which had 603 reported cases, the Green River District Health Department (GRDHD) says the risk is still high and is encouraging people to get the Hepatitis A vaccine, especially those in high-risk groups like the homeless and those in jail or congregate settings.
Jailer Art Maglinger says the Daviess County Detention Center (DCDC) has not seen an issue with Hepatitis A. DCDC uses a third party medical care provider called Advanced Correctional Health Care (ACHC), which does not provide any Hepatitis A prevention at this time. Maglinger said ACHC has treated one female transfer inmate that had been diagnosed with Hepatitis A prior to arriving at DCDC, and follow-up treatment was provided locally.
The health department has offered the vaccine at local shelters and drug outreach facilities according to Jessica Austin, a senior epidemiologist at GRDHD. Austin also said adults are the main focus of the health department because state vaccine requirements for children have changed, now requiring Hepatitis A vaccinations for all school-aged children. A change that Austin says is coincidental.
“It’s been a long time coming for that to change,” Austin said. “Just so happened that this outbreak started in November 2017 and has grown and grown. It’s a good thing that our youth are being vaccinated because we can focus on the adults that we are trying to educate and get vaccinated.”
According to Austin, Hepatitis A is transmitted through poor hand hygiene. Symptoms can include abdominal pain, diarrhea, jaundice and fatigue. Hepatitis A is an acute condition, meaning it is treatable, unlike Hepatitis B and C. The condition can exacerbate extenuating illnesses, which is why 14 deaths in the state have been linked to this outbreak.
Wendi Kozel, a registered nurse and District Health Coordinator for Daviess County Public Schools, says DCPS is working hard to get everyone in compliance with the new vaccination requirement. With more than 11,000 students in the district, Kozel says it is a lot of work.
Many elementary-aged students had received the vaccine prior to the new requirement, Kozel said, but high-school-aged students had not. To compound the issue, the state now requires an additional dose of the meningitis vaccine at age 16.
DCPS is working to receive an updated immunization record from each student, which Kozel hopes will be completed by October.
“Parents have been working very hard,” Kozel said. “I am very pleased with how they have complied.”
If a student did not have the Hepatitis A vaccine prior to school starting in August, Kozel said the student was not refused entry to school and DCPS is working with those families.
Jared Revlett, Public Information Officer for Owensboro Public Schools, said that OPS has not had any issue with anyone being exposed to Hepatitis A at this time. However, Revlett said there was an issue with vaccines being available through private healthcare providers in the months leading up to school.
“There were a handful of students who were unable to receive the vaccine prior to school starting,” Revlett said. “In these cases, the students had to obtain an appointment with a physician to have the vaccine once the doctor received a new shipment and have proof they had an appointment scheduled before they were allowed to start class.”