LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WHAS11) -- Health officials in Kentucky reported 31 cases of acute Hepatitis A in Kentucky in 2017, with 19 reported cases in Jefferson County.
Officials still do not know where the outbreak began in the Bluegrass State, but test results match the genotype associated with the Hepatitis A outbreaks in California, according to the Kentucky Department of Public Health. The state of California had declared a state of emergency after the disease hospitalized more than 400 people and killed 21 as of November 10, according to the California Department of Public Health.
"This is a common genetic strain of Hepatitis A, so there may be a link, but at this point, we don't know that there is for sure," Dr. Lori Caloia, the medical director at the Louisville Metro Department of Public Health and Wellness.
The disease is a highly contagious liver infection that Caloia said is transmitted through fecal contamination, either person-to-person or by being in a contaminated environment.
"People either touch or eat contaminated food," she said. "They spread it by not having good sanitation practices after using the restroom."
According to Caloia, the two most at-risk groups for Hepatitis A are homeless people and injection drug users.
"Not having good chronic long-term health care and then also potentially having other liver problems, they're definitely at risk for more severe disease," she said.
Caloia said health officials are working with those specializing in helping the homeless community to reach out to those who are most at-risk and oftentimes unlikely to seek medical attention, hoping to raise awareness of the disease and to encourage them to receive vaccinations, which she said are very effective.
"We have to utilize the people that they already trust, and so that is one of the reasons why we try to go through the homeless shelters and those that are already providing healthcare because they do obviously share some form of trust with them," she said.
"The relationship that they have with our emergency day shelter coordinator, she knows many of them personally, so she's able to give those sorts of encouragements that carry a lot of weight," Hillary Bullock with the Louisville Rescue Mission said.
Bullock said among the many programs at the Rescue Mission to help the homeless population is an effort to promote hygiene, giving them resources at their emergency day shelter.
"We provide a lot of hygiene products so we try to take every step possible to make sure folks are educated and they have the resources to help prevent diseases," she said.
Bullock said the Rescue Mission is always looking for donations of hygiene and cleaning products. Anyone looking to donate or to volunteer with the Louisville Rescue Mission can contact them at (502) 584-6543.
Caloia said beginning July 1, 2018, all children in Kentucky who will be entering the Kentucky school system will be required to receive their vaccinations for Hepatitis A. She said the vaccination is available and requires two dosages. Anyone interested in getting a vaccination is advised to discuss it with their health provider.