Northern Ky. Health Dept. declares hepatitis A outbreak over in 4 counties it serves; statewide, it may never be considered ‘over’

Top map shows the number of cases per county since the outbreak began in  August 2017. Bottom map shows number of cases in November 2019.

Dec. 16, 2019: Story updated to add comments from Dough Thoroughman, state epidemiologist. 

With no new cases in the past four months, the Northern Kentucky Health Department has declared the hepatitis A outbreak to be over in the four counties it serves. However, the state Department for Public Health says the outbreak continues statewide, at a much lower level.

“Even though the current outbreak is over, it is still important to get vaccinated against hepatitis A,” NKY Health’s district director of health, Dr. Lynne Saddler, said in a news release. ”Not only will it protect you for the future, but it can also help prevent the future spread of hepatitis A in the community.”

During the region’s outbreak, which began in August 2018, there were 319 documented cases of hepatitis A in the four counties served by the health department: Boone, Campbell, Grant and Kenton, including four deaths. In 2017 there were zero cases, says the release.

State numbers for hepatitis A are also way down. Kentucky saw five new cases between Nov. 17 and 30, according to the state’s weekly report. That’s compared to 175 at the same time last year.

“Although our hepatitis A numbers are very low now, Kentucky is still seeing sporadic cases around the state. For the last two months we have identified between two and four new cases each week across the state. About this time last year we had the peak of our outbreak, with over 100 cases identified statewide each week,” Doug Thoroughman, state epidemiologist, said in an e-mail.

Health officials in Lexington told Garrett Wymer of  WKYT-TV that the drop is largely due to increased awareness and vaccination, but the statewide outbreak isn’t officially over.  Lexington has had no new cases since July.

“In terms of the definition of an outbreak for epidemiologists, this outbreak may never be considered ‘over.’ In terms of what the state is telling us, it’s slowed down,” Kevin Hall of the Lexington-Fayette County Health Department told Wymer. “It’s not over, it’s not stopped. Definitely though, it’s under better control that is has been, and it’s definitely under control compared to last year.”

As of Nov. 30, more than 4,900 Kentuckians had been sickened by the highly contagious liver disease, and 61 of them had died from it. The primary risk factors for this outbreak have been drug use and homelessness.

Hepatitis A vaccination is now required to attend school in Kentucky, but health officials stress that adults should be vaccinated too. Getting two doses at least six months apart can provide life-long protection.

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