The country’s largest outbreak of Hepatitis A continues to claim more lives at its epicenter in Appalachian Kentucky. As of the beginning of this month, the state has seen over 4,000 people contract the virus since the outbreak began in the fall of 2017. Of those cases, over 2000 were hospitalized and 44 died. Ohio has seen around 2,000 cases, and West Virginia around 2,500.
The infectious virus, which affects liver function, has been rare in the US since the development of a vaccine in 1995. The disease can spread through contaminated food and water, but the CDC believes increased needle-sharing between drug users in Appalachia is what caused the outbreak.
Public health Commissioner Dr. Jeffrey Howard received public backlash for ignoring early warnings and urges from healthcare officials to arrange funding to vaccinate at-risk populations, including drug-users, homeless people, and incarcerated people. Dr. Howard eventually allocated $2.2 million to local health departments to administer vaccines, less than a quarter of what was asked for by health officials.
Kentucky is seeing a decline in the number of confirmed cases, but the CDC continues to advise public health officials to vaccinate at-risk groups, and to vaccinate all children at age 1.