Kentucky finds itself leading the nation in a category that is cause for concern — Hepatitis A.
According to the Kentucky Department for Public Health, 1,094 cases of Hepatitis have been reported in Kentucky and eight deaths from the outbreak that has been characterized as the worst in the United States.
More than half — 54 percent — of Kentucky counties have reported at least one case since the first week of July. And although there have been no reported cases in the five-county Buffalo Trace Area. there is a vulnerable population here, according to Allison Adams, executive director of the Buffalo Trace Health District. Sharing a home, a cigarette, a marijuana joint, a drink, or sex with someone who has the virus puts you at high risk.
Adams said those vulnerable to the disease include:
— Homeless people
— Incarcerated people
— Men who have sexual relations with other men
— People living in vulnerable populations
— Persons with chronic liver disease
— Persons who have been exposed to Hepatitis A in the prior two weeks.
In addition, cases of Hepatitis A have been reported in counties adjoining Buffalo Trace counties, primarily Pendleton, Bourbon, Greenup, Carter and Rowan counties, Adams said, so resident traveling to those areas should be sure to take precautions.
Hepatitis A is spread through fecal-oral contact, Adams said. Diligent hand-washing is the best way to prevent the spread of Hepatitis A, she said. That includes always washing hands after using the bathroom, or changing diapers, before preparing food and before eating.
The hepatitis A virus can live for a long time on surfaces. Disinfecting kitchens and particularly any restroom open to public use with a solution of bleach and water is the most effective way to kill the virus, according to health officials.
Vaccine for vulnerable populations is available at the health department at a free or reduced cost, Adams said.
While the area has remained free of the disease, Adams said her organization is doing as much prevention as possible to remain that way.
“We are stepping up our prevention efforts,” she said, for a disease “which knows no bounds.”