State health department sending nurses to jails, treatment centers, homeless shelters, other sites with hepatitis A vaccine

The state Department for Public Health has sent a team of nurses to give hepatitis A vaccinations at county jails, state probation-and-parole offices, homeless shelters, treatment centers and drug stores, the Cabinet for Health and Family Services announced in a press release.

“Since April, the team has provided more than 2,100 vaccines at 40 different sites,” the release says. “The state is collaborating with local partners on harm-reduction programs, aimed at reaching those who are most at risk. At least 18 additional vaccination events are scheduled through August.”

“We have found it particularly challenging to reach the at-risk population in rural Kentucky,” said Dr. Jeffrey Howard, commissioner of the department. “One reason is the stigma associated with substance-use disorder. In some of our rural communities, more than 80 percent of hepatitis A cases have occurred in those with SUD. Due to the stigma surrounding SUD, the at-risk population is often hesitant to seek preventative care.”

The department identified the outbreak in November 2017, and has been criticized for not reacting more robustly to it. It has identified 4,700 cases, almost half of them requiring hospitalization, and 58 deaths have been linked to the outbreak.

“Kentucky was the first state to experience a large, rural spread of the disease,” the press release says. “Similar to outbreaks in other states, the primary risk factors have been illicit drug use and homelessness. A contaminated food source has not been identified, and transmission of the virus is believed to have occurred through person-to-person contact. Hepatitis A is a highly contagious liver infection.”

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