LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WHAS11) -- Before the call to post, before “My Old Kentucky Home” and weeks before “the most exciting two minutes in sports" a bigger race has been underway. Mobile clinics are doing the best they can to make getting Hepatitis A a "long shot" for Derby fans.
Free vaccinations were offered to servers and everyone else in food service at 4th Street Live! Clearly a smart business decision with the first Saturday in May just around the corner and the local restaurant's bread and butter.
“We don't want them to get exposed to hep A and carry it to their community,” Delanor Manson, Kentucky Nurses Association Executive Director said.
The restaurant staff doesn’t want to "carry-out" the virus home either.
Sarah Keeney a bartender said, “I had a baby a couple weeks ago and I wanted to make sure that she was going to be protected.”
“This is a disease that is transmitted human to human,” Dr. Ruth Carrico, UofL Infectious Diseases Association Professor & Nurse Practitioner said. “Anyone that has the possibility of ingesting something that is contaminated with the microorganism.”
Contaminated food, a tainted drink or a shake with a dirty hand could lead to exposure and the spread has been unprecedented.
“If you expect two or three cases in a year's time and you have close to 250 in six months, this is clearly an outbreak,” Dr. Ruth Carrico, UofL Infectious Diseases Association Professor & Nurse Practitioner said.
That's just in Louisville Metro; 257 cases confirmed in Jefferson County and 370 cases confirmed in the Commonwealth of Kentucky since Nov. 1, 2017, according to the latest data from the Health Departments.
The epidemic has fueled a kind of back and forth war of words over the Ohio River. The state of Indiana issued this warning about visiting the Derby city while Kentucky's Department of Public Health was quick to respond.
“Let me say that it is safe to travel to Kentucky and it is safe to attend the Kentucky Derby,” Kentucky Department of Public Health Acting Commissioner, Dr. Jeffrey Howard said.
The fact of the matter is Hep A is a Kentuckiana problem, with way more than the usual number of cases in Southern Indiana as well. Indiana has diagnosed 102 people with Hep A, according to the Health Department. That breaks down to 24 cases in Floyd County and 34 cases in Clark County, all since Nov. 1, 2017, through April 23, 2018.
“It's something that we essentially deal with on a daily basis,” Dr. Eric Yazel, Clark County Health Officer said. “We've never had anything to this degree.”
The outbreak may have traveled here from the West Coast.
“I know our strains here are similar to the ones over in Louisville and I've also heard that those are actually tracing all the way back to California and Arizona,” Dr. Eric Yazel, Clark County Health Officer said.
Symptoms of Hep A are like the flu, abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, yellowing of the skin and eyes. Those obvious signs of being sick can take weeks to take effect after actually getting sick. That is why, “you can go from one case to a hundred in no time flat,” according to Dr. Eric Yazel, Clark County Health Officer.
“Touch something, have a hand exposure, and then touch your mouth or touch something that's going into your mouth,” could spread the virus Dr. Yazel said.
Containment is critical and “vaccination's the key,” said Dr. Yazel.
“It's a moving target, it's wherever the populations go,” said Dr. Yazel.
Behind bars, behind closed and locked doors of the Clark County Jail, they are taking extra efforts to prevent the virus from spreading.
“We did a mass immunization in January of 490 inmates,” Dr. Yazel told us.
Lt. Col. Scottie Maples with the Clark County Sheriff's Office said they have quadrupled their normal orders of bleach.
“We're buying 144 gallons of bleach a month on average,” said Lt. Col. Maples.
“We possibly could book in 25 people a day,” according to Lt. Col. Maples. “You could exhibit no signs of hepatitis A on the street, get arrested, come into our jail, and then two weeks later exhibit signs and you have been around inmates. Then you have to quarantine everybody that's been in that general area.”
An average jail population of 5 to 600-inmates, at least 12, according to the health department, tested positive for Hep A.
"Because of the outbreak, the jail has offered hep A vaccines all day, any day, now even though inmates have to follow orders on the inside, that doesn't mean the jail can force them or order them to get the vaccine,” Lt. Col. Maples said.
The Clark County jail said about 750 of the incarcerated got the vaccination.
Louisville Metro Corrections said 56 inmates have been diagnosed with Hepatitis A since November 2017 but they have vaccinated 2,812 inmates and counting.
“I got one myself,” said Kenny Shryock, a former inmate.
Back on the outside, Shryock told us, “I believe the staff is trying to contain it”.
Shryock shared with us the challenges the jail faces, “Unfortunately, a lot of the jails now are overflows for mental patients."
“The downtrodden people that ain't the cleanest, you know what I mean? If you're not staying clean in the streets, you think they care about staying clean in there?” Shryock asked.
So Shryock avoided shaking hands. “I'll dap you or something.”
Now, Shryock hopes to get a fair shake finding work.
Transitional jobs are often in a kitchen, a dishwasher or maybe cook.
While Doc Crow's on "Whiskey Row" has an "A" with health inspections, management says it's doing everything to avoid the other "A.”
“It's a business killer,” Thad Wharton, Doc Crow's service manager told us.
Other area restaurants where employees were diagnosed may find it tough to recover.
Wharton said, “You have to go above and beyond.”
Doc Crow’s provided shots, not shots from the bar, but Hep A shots at no cost to their employees.
Because restaurants, especially now can't afford to gamble on business as usual.
“It's eye-opening to a lot of people just to see how easily it can be spread, but how easily it can also be prevented as well,” Wharton said.
Watch our Q&A with Dr. Ruth Carrico below:
You can ask your doctor about the hepatitis A vaccination or visit a number of other locations such as pharmacies and clinics. Use the search tool below by entering your zipcode to find a location near you that offers the hepatitis A vaccine.