Northeast Arkansas continues to be heavily affected by an ongoing hepatitis A (hep A) outbreak, and the Arkansas Department of Health (ADH) has recommended vaccination for all residents of Greene County ages 19-60. The ADH is warning of a possible hepatitis A (hep A) exposure after an employee of the Ironhorse Barbeque, at 2108 Linwood Dr. in Paragould, tested positive for the virus. Hep A is a contagious liver disease that can be prevented by a vaccination.
Anyone who ate at this facility from July 25 to August 10 should seek vaccination immediately if they have never been vaccinated against hep A or are unsure of their vaccination status. There are no specific treatments once a person gets hep A. Illness can be prevented even after exposure by getting the vaccine or medicine called immune globulin. This medicine contains antibodies to hep A and works best if given within two weeks of exposure to the virus.
Anyone experiencing symptoms should seek care immediately. 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). It can range in severity from a mild illness lasting a few weeks to a severe illness lasting several months, and can occasionally cause death.
“This restaurant worked proactively with the ADH by encouraging vaccinating to their employees prior to this potential exposure,” said Dr. Dirk Haselow, State Epidemiologist. “ADH is not aware of any ongoing risk in this restaurant at this time. Risk of getting hep A in a restaurant setting is low. Restaurants must follow ADH protocols for handwashing and glove use.”
Vaccine will be available this week in Greene County at the following public clinics:
- On Tuesday, August 14 from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. at the Greene Co. Health Unit at 801 Goldsmith Rd. in Paragould.
- On Wednesday, August 15 from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. at the Paragould Community Center at 3404 Linwood Dr. in Paragould.
- On Thursday and Friday, Aug.16-17 from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. at the Eastside Baptist Church at 529 East Court Street in Paragould.
The vaccine will be provided to the public at no cost. People should bring their insurance card and driver’s license if they have one.
The ADH continues to encourage all Greene County residents who are age 19 to 60 to get vaccinated for hep A and wash their hands thoroughly and often. The ADH strongly encourages all food handlers to be vaccinated against hep A in both Greene and Clay Counties to protect against spread of the virus.
Since February, 85 cases of hep A have been reported as part of an outbreak in Northeast Arkansas, including one death. Greene County has had the most cases, although there have been cases in Clay, Craighead, Independence, Lawrence, Mississippi and Randolph counties.
The ADH is focusing on vaccinating 19 to 60 year olds because all of our current cases are in that age range. Many children are already vaccinated for hep A, and many adults over 60 have developed immunity to hep A through previous exposure to the virus. High priority groups for getting the hep A vaccine include:
- Anyone who has had close contact with someone who has hep A
- Food workers
- People who use drugs, whether injected or not
- People experiencing homelessness, transient, or unstable housing
- People who have been recently incarcerated
The hep A vaccine is safe and effective. Hep A is a contagious liver disease that results from infection with the hep A virus, which is a different virus from the viruses that cause hep B or hep C. It 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.
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. Almost all people who get hep A recover completely and do not have any lasting liver damage, although they may feel sick for months.
The older a person is when they get hep A, typically the more severe symptoms they have. Other risk factors for having more severe symptoms of hep A include having other infections or chronic diseases like hep B or C, HIV/AIDS or diabetes. Up to one in three adults are typically hospitalized. Death due to hep A is rare, but is more likely in patients with other liver diseases (like hep B or C).
For more information about hep A and updated information about the outbreak in Arkansas, please visit www.healthy.arkansas.gov.