Nashville has become the latest city managing an outbreak of Hepatitis A, a preventable liver disease. The Metro Health Department has confirmed 14 cases — most of which appear to be linked — and expect many more over the coming months.
So far, the virus has been found in illicit drug users and men having sex with men. And with just 1,150 doses of vaccine on hand, city health officials are focusing immunization efforts on them first. But the biggest concern — long-term — is for the homeless community.
Hepatitis A lives in the intestines and most often spreads by injesting food contaminated by tiny amoungs of stool from someone who is infected. Having sex with someone who is ill or even caring for them can transmit the disease, according to Metro Public Health.
Metro is trying to acquire many more vials for vaccination, expecting a "vigorous response" over the next few months.
Louisville has been dealing with an outbreak since late last year. Nearly 400 people have been infected. And the health department there has immunized 62,000 people.
All the activity has made doses harder to come by.
"A lot has been used recently in order to curtail these outbreaks, and now there are at least some spot shortages of Hepatitis A vaccine," says Dr. William Schaffner, an infectious disease expert at Vanderbilt Medical Center.
In Kentucky, two people have died related to the outbreak, but most people who contract Hepatitis A have a full recovery within a few weeks. The telltale symptoms include jaundice (yellowing of eyes and skin) and clay-colored stools.