Experts battle misconceptions of Hepatitis A, continue to urge vaccination

While Louisville has been experiencing an outbreak of hepatitis A since November 2017, there...
While Louisville has been experiencing an outbreak of hepatitis A since November 2017, there are still a lot of misconceptions about the infection. (Source: WAVE 3 News)
Updated: May. 14, 2018 at 7:03 PM EDT
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LOUISVILLE, KY (WAVE) - With no end in sight for the hepatitis A outbreak in Louisville, health leaders are doing everything they can to educate the community. That includes combating a lot of misconceptions that are out there right now.

Louisville has been dealing with a hepatitis A outbreak since November 2017.

It's a highly contagious liver infection that can be deadly. Hepatitis A is spread when a person unknowingly ingests the virus from objects, food, or drinks contaminated by small, undetected amounts of stool from an infected person.

The symptoms of hepatitis A can be brutal and can last two to three weeks.

"Diarrhea, vomiting, nausea," Delanor Manson, Executive Director of Kentucky Nurses Association, said.

People may also experience pain in the abdomen, joints, or muscles, as well as fatigue, fever, or loss of appetite, dark urine, itching, weight loss, or yellow skin and eyes (jaundice).

The Louisville Metro Department of Public Health and Wellness has reported 339 cases of hepatitis A in metro Louisville since November.

WAVE 3 News took some questions to the experts.

The first, who is the outbreak centered around?

"The cases that we are seeing are primarily drug users, or drug-sharing population, and our homeless populations," Matt Rhodes from Metro Public Health and Wellness said.

Rhodes said fewer than 5% of the total cases of people infected have actually worked in the food industry and there have not been any cases of foodborne transmission in our area.

Why does a food service establishment end up on the news when someone working there has a confirmed case of hep A?

"We are legally obligated to make that notification to potential contacts of confirmed cases," Rhodes said.

That's because hepatitis A is a foodborne illness.

So, should one panic if she ate at a restaurant where an employee was diagnosed with hep A, or should people be scared to eat out?

"It's absolutely safe to to eat in our food service facilities because we have zero cases that have been transmitted as related to a foodborne transmission," Rhodes said.

"If a restaurant has had an employee with hep A, they are probably the safest restaurant to go to because what they are doing is that employee is not going to work and they are getting all their staff vaccinated," Manson said.

LIST: WAVE Country businesses affected by hepatitis A
+ Q&A: Hepatitis A outbreak in WAVE Country

People with hep A will need to stay home and stay away from others until the symptoms pass. Plenty of rest will help. There are no specific medicines to cure hepatitis A. If symptoms become severe, people should get medical attention.

But, experts said people can avoid it all with a vaccine.

"If you eat, and not just eat at restaurants, but if you eat -- take the vaccine," Manson said.

WAVE 3 News did speak to a local restaurant owner who had an employee diagnosed with hep A. He declined to go on camera, but said his business has suffered because people have so many misconceptions.

Experts also wanted to remind the public that washing their hands with soap and water is critical -- hand sanitizer will not cut it.

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