Bearno's to reimburse vaccine costs for customers who think they may have been exposed to hepatitis A virus after employee at Louisville location tests positive

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- Kentucky officials believe the hepatitis A outbreak is now the worst in the United States.

"Some states have ended their outbreak but still have a low number of cases," said Commissioner of Kentucky's Department of Public Health Dr. Jeffrey Howard. "As far as we know this is the most cases in a state with a current outbreak."

The Kentucky Department of Health confirms 969 cases of the liver disease. 

Louisville has 482 confirmed cases; 300 people have been hospitalized. Six people in Kentucky have died, which is less than one percent of those diagnosed; three of those deaths were in Louisville. Officials say that death rate is much lower than that of states with comparable outbreaks.

"We're hospitalizing almost 59% of patients who have hep a, which I do believe has contributed to less deaths," Howard said. 

Hep A mostly affects drug users and homeless people, and officials are working to get funding for more vaccines.

Jefferson County has recently had a steady decline in cases in the last couple of months. This is giving officials hope that the end of the outbreak could be near.

"Cases kind of peaked in April, we had about four new cases a day," Dr. Sarah Moyer, Director of Louisville Metro Department of Public Health and Wellness said. "So far in June, we have just over two new cases a day, so we're hopefully it's starting to trend down."

"There's very early evidence that perhaps Jefferson County is seeing the beginning of a plateau, and we hope that's the case," said Howard.

While the statistics are showing a decline and give some sigh of relief, Howard said the state is far away from the official end of the outbreak. That end will be declared once the cases have decreased to a certain rate.

"We haven't even set that rate yet because we haven't thought about it," he said. "We're still ways away."

There have not been any food-related transfers of hepatitis A, despite the numerous restaurant alerts about restaurant employees from health officials.

Officials continue to urge people who live in outbreak counties and those who use drugs or are homeless to get vaccinated and wash their hands thoroughly. They also remind parents that a new state regulation requires all Kentucky students in preschool through high school to be vaccinated against hepatitis A.

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