Kentucky students in grades K-12 have to have the Hepatitis A vaccine in order to attend school in the fall. Students aged 16 years must also receive a booster vaccine for meningococcal meningitis.
A state mandate passed in 2017 comes in effect for the upcoming 2018-19 school year requiring every student to have at least the first dose of Hepatitis A vaccine to be allowed to start the new school year.
According to the Department for Public Health, the mandate was issued as a result of the recent outbreak of Hepatitis A; the state has seen more than 700 cases of Hepatitis A from August 2017 to June 2018. Before the recent outbreak, Kentucky averaged just 20 cases of Hepatitis A annually.
Several news media outlets across the state have reported at least six deaths related to the outbreak.
In the Lake Cumberland region, there have been two confirmed cases of Hepatitis A according to Dr. Christine Weyman, medical director at the Lake Cumberland District Health Department.
“We’ve have two cases since August 2017 but the regional annual average is 0,” says Weyman. “The best to way for people to protect themselves is to get vaccinated and wash your hands frequently.”
The Hepatitis A vaccine has been used for more than 20 years and is considered safe and very effective by medical professionals.
The vaccine is currently available at health departments throughout the Lake Cumberland region, but if there is a great demand, Weyman says that there is a potential for delay.
“We would have to order more of the vaccine if there is a great demand and that could cause a bit of a delay,” says Weyman. “Interested individuals should call first to be sure it is available.”
Hepatitis A is most commonly associated with illicit intravenous drug use and homelessness but the infection can also be spread when an individual eats contaminated food or drinks that have microscopic stool particles from an infected person. It can also be transmitted sexually or by sharing towels, toothbrushes, cigarettes, or eating utensils.
Symptoms of Hepatitis A can include fever, nausea, vomiting, loss of appetite, jaundice, fatigue, stomach pain, dark pee and/or pale colored stool.
To help protect against the virus, hands should be washed with warm water and soap; hand sanitizers cannot protect against the virus.
It is a requirement for school age children to receive the first round of the two-dose vaccine before the upcoming 2018 school year. All others who wish to protect themselves should contact their doctor or primary care provider to request the vaccination.
By Adam Capps