Southern Indiana health officials vaccinate to stop hep. A outbreak

Southern Indiana health officials vaccinate to stop hep. A outbreak
Southern Indiana health officials are working to inform the public about hep. A and how it spreads.
A vial of hepatitis A vaccine. (Source: Rachael Krause / WAVE 3 News)
A vial of hepatitis A vaccine. (Source: Rachael Krause / WAVE 3 News)

SCOTTSBURG, IN (WAVE) –  Hepatitis A continues its spread through Southern Indiana, with 10 confirmed cases in Floyd County and 29 confirmed cases in Clark County.

On Friday, Metro Health and Wellness identified two new cases of hepatitis A from employees at two Louisville food establishments, making a total of 159 cases in Jefferson County.

The first case on Friday came from an employee at the Kroger store located on N 35th St.,  and reports quickly came in of another case at the Sarino Restaurant on Goss Avenue. Customers who shopped at the Kroger there or had eaten at Sarino's in previous weeks may have been exposed.

Groups are working to combat the spread of the virus through awareness and education. Scott and Clark Counties in Indiana are working to get ahead of the spread of the virus by vaccinating those likely to get hep A.

On Friday night, Clark County Health Department Officer Dr. Yazel  said they will immunize 280 inmates at the Clark County Jail. That's in addition to the nearly 500 inmates immunized weeks earlier.

The health department has confirmed 11 cases of hep. A within the Clark County Jail since December. Scott County Health Department Public Health Nurse Brittany Combs said they haven't had any cases there yet, but have been anticipating this spread since it came to Kentucky. They've been immunizing people for months now, starting with at-risk groups.

"We definitely want to prioritize the homeless, the injection drug users, and the people that work with them, very closely with them. That's the people we're really targeting right now," Combs said.

For the past three years since the HIV outbreak within the county, Combs said they've been working to immunize drug users with the hep. A and B vaccines. She said many of them were positive for hep C. Now, they're encouraging those people more than ever to get that vaccine.

The vaccine is effective at protecting people but many don't have it. In Southern Indiana schools, the hep. A immunization is now a requirement for students coming into kindergarten but the requirement itself is only a few years old. Combs said that requirement moved in during the 2014-2015 school year.

A state report from 2015 shows hepatitis A immunization rates among six-year-olds within the state by county. Scott County six-year-olds reported a 73 percent rate of immunization for hep A. Floyd County reported 84 percent, and Clark County reported 85 percent, leaving a gap in those and other counties around the state of children without that protection.

Now that the virus is spreading, the need to immunize is key, Combs said.

"We have been concerned that it's coming to Scott County for a while now," she said.

So for months, crews at the Scott County Health Department have been immunizing people in the community, starting with at-risk groups like the homeless, drug users and those that work with them. But vaccine supply isn't always easy to access.

"It is a challenge to keep up with it. We have several different ways to get vaccine, and some of them are harder to get than others, so we've been really trying to get ahead of what we need," Combs said.

Indiana kids coming into kindergarten need that immunization. Many children will do the immunization at their child's one year check-up and the booster six months later.  The state rolled out the requirement for the vaccine, Combs said, as a 'roll up' process, meaning the requirement age went up with the kids.

"It was required for kindergarteners, and then the next year, it was required for kindergarteners and first grade, then the next kindergarten, first grade, second grade. So there's going to be that group of kids that didn't get vaccinated," Combs said.

Many people aren't immunized against hep. A right now. But once you have it - that protection lasts for life.

"The vaccine is a two-dose series. You get one shot now and then you get one shot in six months, you get a booster. But the good thing about the Hepatitis A shot is that it works really well, so after that first vaccine, you're over 90 percent protected," Combs said.

Combs said she hopes to see the majority of people protected against hep. A one day, so an outbreak like this becomes a thing of the past. But until then, clean hands and hygiene is a must.

"If you have signs or symptoms, don't prepare food for other people and wash your hands really well. That's the biggest thing with this virus, you have to have really good hand hygiene," Combs said.

A statewide reporting system called CHIRP tracks your children's immunizations. To find out if your children have the hep. A vaccine, contact your doctor or local health department.

If you think you have hepatitis A, go to your doctor for a check-up. For more information about Hepatitis A, including the signs and symptoms, click here.

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