Knox County offers hep A shots to ‘high-risk’ groups
Kristi L Nelson
Knoxville News Sentinel USA TODAY NETWORK - TENNESSEE
In the wake of a hepatitis A outbreak happening in Nashville, the Knox County Health Department is offering free hepatitis A vaccinations to those at high risk for the illness.
The health department will give for free the first shot in the hepatitis A series — which by itself is 85 percent to 90 percent effective at preventing hepatitis A, said Knox County Health Department Director Dr. Martha Buchanan — to people who are homeless, engage in recreational drug use, or are men who have sex with men.
Those people are at especially high risk of contracting and spreading hepatitis A, a highly contagious virus that affects the liver’s ability to function, Buchanan said, and can be at higher risk for hepatitis C or HIV infection as well.
Using some federal funding earmarked for vaccinating adults without insurance coverage, the health department will partner with other groups to reach more people at high risk, she said, as well as screen people who come to the health department for other services.
“We’re doing this to reduce the risk that we as a community have an outbreak of hepatitis A,” costing both public health and individuals in terms of illness, missed work and possibly hospitalization, she said. Those who believe they may be at high risk should call 865-215-5365.
Since Dec. 1, Nashville’s Metro Public Health Department has reported 14 confirmed cases of acute hepatitis A in Nashville and is working with the state to control the outbreak.
Nashville averages two cases annually. But Kentucky and Indiana are among states that have seen ongoing outbreaks since early 2017, with illness spreading quickly among the homeless population and drug users.
Buchanan said Knox County had a “small” outbreak in 2009, managed with weekend clinics, and a larger one in 2003 related to a nationwide episode of contaminated green onions. Because the virus is spread from feces, it can be spread by ill food workers or unwashed produce.
Those who travel often or eat out a lot might consider getting the vaccine, even outside those other “high-risk” groups, she said.
It’s offered by appointment for cost or through insurance by the health department’s Travel and Immunization Clinic, 865-215-5070.