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Hep A outbreak statewide, but not hit Magoffin

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MAGOFFIN – While areas of Kentucky have been seeing an outbreak of Hepatitis A cases, so far Magoffin County has maintained no reported cases and the local health department director reminds those in the community to not panic.

Salyersville Mayor and Magoffin County Health Department Director James “Pete” Shepherd explained to the Independent on Monday that the Kentucky Department for Public Health has been tracking Hepatitis A cases since September 2017, but so far Magoffin has had no reported cases of the virus.

“Right now the state is not recommending everyone go out and get the vaccine,” Shepherd said. “They recommend drug users and homeless people to get the vaccine and they want healthcare workers that could be in contact with those people to get it, but there’s no need to run out and get the vaccine unless you’re in those groups or think you may have come in contact with it.”

Shepherd explained that the vaccine is effective after someone has come in contact with the virus, so if someone thinks they may have been exposed, such as eating at one of the restaurants that has reported a worker with Hepatitis A, that person can get the vaccine as much as two weeks after exposure to be protected.

“The big thing right now is don’t panic,” Shepherd said. “If you think you may have been exposed, come to the health department and we’ll get you where you need to be.” 

While the Magoffin County Health Department does not keep adult vaccines on hand, currently, he said they have a program for uninsured people. For people with insurance, he said Rite Aid and Walmart Pharmacy can also distribute the vaccine.

Shepherd reiterated that Hepatitis A is actually difficult to contract.

Hepatitis A virus can spread by eating food handled by someone with the virus who did not properly wash his or her hands, drinking contaminated water, being in close contact with an infected person and by having sexual contact with someone with the virus. 

“You just need good personal hygiene, wash your hands and produce off good,” Shepherd said. “Even if someone has the virus working in a restaurant, as long as they handle the food properly, you’re not at risk.”

He said the syringe exchange program, which the health department has been working toward implementing, is important to help prevent an outbreak, since the virus can be spread by sharing needles. 

Jefferson County has been hit the hardest in the state with 353 total number of Acute Hepatitis A cases reported (August 1, 2017 through May 12, 2018), pushing them to enact stronger preventions, including expanding programs to provide vaccinations for drug users and homeless people. The Kentucky Department for Public Health classifies a Hepatitis A outbreak as a county having five or more reported cases. 

As far as Magoffin, so far, the county has stayed out of the major outbreak areas, with Lawrence and Montgomery as the closest counties reporting outbreaks. Interestingly, the outbreak areas seem to be following the major interstates in the state, however, it has not made its way down the Mountain Parkway.

“An estimated 20 percent of people working in fast food are drug users, but if they handle the food properly, it’s not a problem,” Shepherd said. “It’s very hard to get Hepatitis A through casual contact. That’s just the nature of the virus. People cutting corners, not wearing gloves or washing their hands, that’s what causes the problem. If you think you’ve been somewhere where you could have come in contact with the virus, come to the health department and we’ll guide you.”

 

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