Louisville records first hepatitis A death as state continues battling outbreak

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- Kentuckiana's hepatitis A outbreak grows worse by the week. 

As of Monday, 294 cases have been confirmed in Louisville, and more than a dozen have been confirmed in neighboring southern Indiana communities like Clark and Floyd County. 

"The majority of the people are from a high risk group," University of Louisville Associate Professor of infectious disease Ruth Carrico said. "People who are homeless, housing insecure, people who use or inject drugs, men who have sex with men or people who congregate with those populations."

Hepatitis A is a liver disease most commonly transmitted through fecal matter on unwashed hands. It can take up to 50 days to start showing symptoms which include:

  • Loss of appetite
  • Nausea
  • Tiredness
  • Fever
  • Stomach ache
  • Dark (cola) colored urine
  • Light colored stools
  • Jaundice (yellowing of the eyes or skin)

Doctors diagnosed an employee at the Bearno's Pizza off Westport Road in Louisville with hepatitis A on Thursday. The restaurant immediately shut its doors for a bleach cleaning before reopening with health department approval. 

"I think it's very unfortunate what happened," Bearno's Inc. President George Timmering said. "Their past three health department scores have been 99,100, 99, so they run a good operation. But I think this shows with this outbreak you got to get everybody covered."

Bearno's is paying for hepatitis A vaccinations for 500 workers across all 14 of its location and offering to cover any out of pocket cost for the shot to any customer who ate at the Wesport Road location between April 8-22. 

"It's just the right thing to do," Timmering said. "Let's get every restaurant in the city to require every employee to get it." 

Food safety remains a top concern as tourist flood the area this week for the Kentucky Derby. It's Louisville's signature event of the year. The city's health department is taking part in a vaccination blitz, scheduling shots for more than 1,700 hundred restaurant workers over the next few days.

"They directly touch something that goes directly in our mouths, and that's how we acquire hep A," Carrico said. "I have to put the poop germ in my mouth."

Employees at 13 restaurants or grocery stores in the area have fallen ill with hepatitis A:

In November, the Kentucky Department for Public Health declared a statewide hepatitis A outbreak. One death has been attributed to the disease. More than 16,000 people have been vaccinated in Louisville. The Louisville Health Department has reduced the price of hepatitis A shots from $65 to $25 in an effort to encourage food service workers to get vaccinated.

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