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Update on Hep A outbreak in Northeast Arkansas
Little Rock, Ark. – This is an update to the Hepatitis A (Hep A) outbreak in Northeast Arkansas. The Arkansas Department of Health (ADH) has previously alerted the public about potential exposures in food establishment settings. Risk factors for getting Hep A in this outbreak are close contact with someone who has Hep A; restaurant workers; people with infections or chronic diseases like Hep B or C, HIV/AIDS or diabetes; drug use; homelessness; or incarceration.
ADH recently warned of a possible Hep A exposure after an employee of the Steak ‘n’ Shake in Jonesboro, Ark., located at 2307 E. Parker Rd., tested positive for the virus. The employee was without symptoms but infectious while working May 23, 27, and 28 and June 3. Illness can be prevented even after exposure by getting the vaccine or a treatment called immune globulin. These work best if given within two weeks of exposure to the virus. Beyond two weeks, the vaccine may not prevent disease after exposure.
Risk of getting Hep A in a restaurant setting is low. Restaurants must follow ADH protocols for handwashing and glove use. ADH is not aware of any ongoing risk in this restaurant at this time. Anyone who ate at this facility on June 3, 2018 between 4 and 10:30 p.m. should seek care immediately if they have never been vaccinated against Hep A or are unsure of their vaccination status. Anyone who ate at this location on those days should be aware of the symptoms of Hep A and visit their doctor or health care provider, and let their provider know they have potentially been exposed to Hep A if they experience symptoms.
“Because this is an ongoing outbreak, we will continue to update the public with information that helps them make decisions about their health,” said Dr. Gary Wheeler, ADH Chief Medical Officer. “Anyone in the affected counties should be aware of the heightened risk of Hep A in their community and get vaccinated if necessary.”
Typical symptoms of Hep A include fever, fatigue, loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, dark urine, clay-colored bowel movements, joint pain, or jaundice (yellowing of the skin or eyes). Hep A is a contagious liver disease that results from infection with the Hepatitis A virus. It can range in severity from a mild illness lasting a few weeks to a severe illness lasting several months. A person can transmit the virus to others up to two weeks before and one week after symptoms appear.
The virus can cause illness anytime from two to seven weeks after exposure. If infected, most people will develop symptoms three to four weeks after exposure. Many people, especially children, may have no symptoms. The older a person is when they get Hep A, typically the more severe symptoms they have. Up to one in three adults are typically hospitalized. Almost all people who get Hep A recover completely and do not have any lasting liver damage, although they may feel sick for months.
Since February 2018, 36 cases of Hep A have been reported as part of an outbreak in Northeast Arkansas, with a majority of cases in Clay and Greene counties. Cases have also been found in Lawrence, Randolph, and Craighead counties. Six of these cases have been in food workers. All of the cases have been in adults. ADH is updating information about the outbreak at www.healthy.arkansas.gov.
Handwashing can also prevent the spread of Hep A. If soap and water are not available, clean hands with hand sanitizer containing at least 80% alcohol. Hep A is usually spread when a person ingests tiny amounts of fecal matter from contact with objects, food or drinks contaminated by the feces, or stool, of an infected person. Hep A can also be spread through unprotected sex or sharing of injection drugs.
Hepatitis A is preventable through vaccination. Hepatitis A vaccine has been recommended for school children for many years, and one dose of Hep A vaccine is required for entry into kindergarten and first grade as of 2014. Most adults are likely not vaccinated, but may have been if they received vaccinations prior to traveling internationally.
Please contact the LHU in your county for more information about vaccination. A listing of LHUs can be found at www.healthy.arkansas.gov. Vaccinations are also available in some pharmacies. Contact your pharmacy for more information. The Craighead County Local Health Unit (LHU) in Jonesboro will hold a walk-in clinic to provide vaccinations from 8 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Friday, June 15. The Craighead Co. LHU is located at 611 E. Washington Ave. in Jonesboro. Another clinic will be held Friday, June 15 from 7 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. at the Greene Co. Health Unit at 801 Goldsmith Rd. in Paragould.