City of Lawrence spokesperson addresses rumor claiming Hepatitis A has infected city’s drinking water

photo by: Courtesy of McCarthy Building Companies Inc.

A aerial photo shows the Kansas River Wastewater Treatment Plant, 1400 E. Eighth St., along the Kansas River.

A City of Lawrence spokesperson said the city had been “inundated with concerned calls” Thursday after an unfounded rumor that Lawrence’s water supply has been infected by Hepatitis A.

Michael Leos, a spokesperson with the city’s Municipal Services & Operations Department, confirmed to the Journal-World Thursday afternoon that the city’s drinking water is “completely safe and has not been impacted in any way,” and the spike in the illness was instead detected in wastewater testing from January.

Those details were outlined in a memo from the Kansas Department of Health and Environment sent to Douglas County health care providers Feb. 21, which Leos shared with the Journal-World. The memo notes that the increased concentration of Hepatitis A has been detected at the Lawrence Kansas River Wastewater Treatment Facility, and it peaked in mid-January.

“Once again, our drinking water is completely safe and unaffected,” Leos told the Journal-World in an email. “Outside of the concerns listed in the release, the primary health risk that this higher concentration of Hep. A poses is to those who work with wastewater infrastructure. Risks such as these are why the City of Lawrence has a well-established blood borne pathogen program with partnership from LMH.”

Leos told the Journal-World that the city and Lawrence-Douglas County Health Department were working to issue a joint statement to mitigate confusion, but that hadn’t been released as of 5 p.m. Thursday. He referred the Journal-World to KDHE or the local health department with any further questions.

The KDHE memo also notes, however, that while the local health department and KDHE have not identified any recent cases of Hepatitis A, the fact that it was detected in wastewater could indicate transmission is occurring in the community. Per the memo, detection levels have remained elevated throughout February — though not anywhere near the mid-January peak — and also suggest community transmission is occurring.

Additionally, KDHE’s memo refers to an active outbreak of Hepatitis A in neighboring Shawnee County, where the disease has been transmitted among people experiencing homelessness and drug users. The KDHE has been tracking that outbreak via a data dashboard since August 2022, and it suggests that 18 cases have been reported so far in 2024.

The memo suggests that Douglas County health care providers strongly consider vaccinating groups like drug users; people experiencing homelessness; people who are currently or have recently been incarcerated; and people who provide care for individuals experiencing homelessness, drug users or the elderly. Hepatitis A is a highly contagious vaccine-preventable liver infection that spreads when someone unknowingly ingests the virus through close personal contact with an infected person or through eating contaminated foods or drinks.


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