By: RJ Beck, Registered Sanitarian II
With almost 1,100 cases of Hepatitis A in Kentucky as of July 7, the NKY Health is working hard to prevent infections in Northern Kentucky. Three divisions are currently collaborating to prevent the spread of this disease. Population Health staff in Epidemiology are investigating cases and contacts while other division staff are also engaged in outreach and communications. Clinical Services is vaccinating contacts; and Environmental Health & Safety (EH&S) is focusing on educating food service operators with the appropriate prevention methods.
In late May, EH&S distributed Hepatitis A information packets by mail to approximately 1,300 food service establishments. Included in this packet were letters outlining the state of the outbreak in Kentucky, “Wash Your Hands” Hepatitis A informational posters, as well as disinfection guidelines of common touch areas such as bathroom facilities, dining tables, recreation equipment, etc.
EH&S staff also visited homeless & needy shelters, advising staff of prevention measures for this high risk group. Advisory letters, informational packets, and posters emphasizing hand washing were delivered to 23 shelters within our district. Shelter staff was greatly appreciative of NKHD efforts and more than willing to educate their clientele.
During food safety inspections, inspectors are spending additional time discussing & monitoring safe food handling practices as well as educating food service workers of the outbreak. This includes the current status of the Hepatitis A outbreak, preventative measures, and the critical importance of effective hand washing. Should a case of an infected food service worker occur, EH&S has already developed an investigation checklist for inspectors to use in such a situation.
EH&S is developing a second mailing to food service operators. This mailing will strongly recommend that all food service workers get vaccinated for Hepatitis A, as well as detailed disinfection methods for not only common touch areas but also food prep surfaces. Homeless shelters and service provider sites will be re-visited as a joint effort by Epidemiology and Environmental staff. This collaborative effort is a unique opportunity for division staff to work side by side in the field serving this high risk group.
Although a recent news article has cited Kentucky as the #1 state in terms of the number of cases of Hepatitis A, be assured that NKHD staff is working tirelessly to “Prevent, Promote, and Protect.”