In light of the recent controversy over the failure to disclose the restaurants in Whitley County where workers have been diagnosed with Hepatitis A, Interm Whitley County Health Department Director Tamara Phelps spoke with the Corbin City Commission and Whitley County Fiscal Court recently.
Phelps spoke at the city commission’s regular monthly meeting Monday night and addressed the fiscal court at its regular meeting Tuesday night.
Commissioners asked what led to the decision to identify the restaurants after initially refusing to do so even after receiving an open records request.
Phelps said that public pressure led to the decision, but added that in the future the health department would only release the information in the event of high risk cases.
Phelps explained that high risk cases involved an employee continuing to work after being diagnosed with Hepatitis A.
“In that case, we would definitely recommend a vaccine to anyone who had been in that restaurant,” Phelps said.
A low risk case means that an employee was diagnosed, but the employee is not working and will not be permitted to return to work until a medical provider has cleared them to do so.
Commissioner Trent Knuckles questioned why she would not release future instances.
Phelps said in speaking with health department directors in other counties, they are only releasing high risk cases and she is following that guideline.
Phelps said that since reporting began in Nov. 2017, Whitley County has had 158 reported cases of Hepatitis A.
“They are not all active cases,” Phelps said explaining the patient is typically feeling better within two weeks.
The next report is scheduled to come out on Friday.
Of those cases, three involved restaurant workers. The most recent was in August, involving an employee at McDonald’s in Williamsburg.
Two other cases were reported in July, one involving an employee at McDonald’s on Cumberland Falls Highway in Corbin and the other at Domino’s Pizza in Williamsburg.
Phelps explained that Hepatitis A is spread fecally, meaning the best defense is to wash your hands frequently with soap and water, especially after using the bathroom or touching items shared in public, such as restaurant menus as it can live outside of the body for months.
“We are trying to get the word out that restaurant workers are not the only people that have Hepatitis A that you need to be worried about,” Phelps said.
Phelps said approximately 69 percent of the people diagnosed used illicit drugs, emphasizing that it wasn’t just IV drugs.
About 20 percent of those diagnosed had no risk factors at all.
Phelps said the best way to prevent contracting the disease is through immunization. Two rounds of injections are required to complete the immunization. The injections are given six months apart.
The health department, pharmacies and primary care facilities may administer the immunizations.
“It is supposed to be lifetime immunity,” Phelps said.
Phelps said that as of Monday the health department had administered 878 vacincations and 624 pediatric vacincations.
“We have been to the jail. We have received calls from numerous businesses to vaccinate their employees,” Phelps said.
“A lot of the restaurants in Williamsburg and Corbin are paying for their employees to be vaccinated,” she added.
Phelps said while she understands the concern about Hepatitis A and restaurant workers, the flu is more widespread.
“It is something new,” Phelps said of Hepatitis A.