How you can protect yourself from Kentucky and Indiana's hepatitis A outbreak

You should wash your hands, keep your home clean and get your shots.

Hopefully, that isn't news, but the reason to take extra care keeping clean and healthy might be: Kentucky and Indiana are both dealing with sudden spikes in the rate of hepatitis A among their populations.

Zack Rainey, who works for the Northern Kentucky Health Department, said his state used to see about 20 cases of hepatitis A each year. Between November 2017 and today, doctors in Kentucky diagnosed more than 600.

"The primary population being affected are the drug-using population -- illicit drug users -- and that's injecting or non-injecting," he said. "It's drug use in general and the homeless population and anyone working with those populations as well."

Hepatitis A is a highly contagious liver disease that can cause nausea, vomiting, fever and jaundice among other side effects. Symptoms manifest anywhere from two to six weeks after initial exposure and can last for months without treatment.

It travels in the blood and waste of people who have been infected, meaning a high-five with a carrier who hasn't washed their hands  and a quick snack afterward can be all it takes to transmit the disease.

Rainey said Kentuckians shouldn't be scared by the news, but they should take an active role in their own health to minimize the risk of infection. That means washing thoroughly with hot water and soap, disinfecting surfaces in their homes and getting the vaccine.

"Really, the three prongs of prevention would be the vaccine, good hand washing and cleaning of surfaces," he said.

The hepatitis A vaccine is covered by many insurance plans. If that doesn't include yours, you can receive it at a Northern Kentucky Health Department clinic.

The vaccine covers most adults for 20 years, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

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