Northeast Arkansas continues to have an ongoing hepatitis A (hep A) outbreak. Hep A is a contagious liver disease that can be prevented by a vaccination. The ADH is warning of a possible hep A exposure after an employee of Murdocks Catfish, located at 2612 Red Wolf Blvd in Jonesboro, tested positive for the virus.

Anyone who ate food from this restaurant from Sept. 27 to Oct. 5 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.

“This restaurant worked proactively with the ADH by requiring vaccination for all of their employees with complete compliance 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.”

Vaccine will be available at the Craighead County Local Health Unit located at 611 E. Washington St. in Jonesboro from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Thursday, October 11, and at the Earl Bell Community Center located at 1212 S. Church St. in Jonesboro from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Friday, October 12.  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.

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.

Risk of getting hep A in a restaurant setting is low. Restaurants must follow ADH protocols for handwashing and glove use, and employees are not to return to work until they are no longer sick. Hep A is being spread in this outbreak primarily through close contacts in the community, not through eating at restaurants.

Since February, 158 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, Lee, Mississippi, Monroe, Phillips, Poinsett, Arkansas, and Randolph counties.

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 Greene, Clay, and Craighead counties to protect against spread of 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 (stool) of an infected person.

A person can transmit the virus to others up to two weeks before and one week after symptoms appear. If infected, most people will develop symptoms three to four weeks after exposure; however, the virus can cause illness anytime from two to seven 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.

Older people typically have more severe symptoms. Other risk factors for having more severe symptoms of hep A include having other infections or chronic diseases like hep B or hep 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 hep C).

As of June 25, 2013, 122 people have been confirmed to have become ill from Hepatitis A after eating ‘Townsend Farms Organic Anti-oxidant Blend’ in 8 states: Arizona (17), California (62), Colorado (25), Hawaii (5), New Mexico (5), Nevada (5), Utah (2), and Wisconsin (1).

71 (58%) ill people are women;

Ages range from 2 – 84 years;

74 (61%) of those ill were between 40 – 64 years of age;

Currently, 5 children under age 18 have been infected as part of this outbreak; of these, none were hospitalized, and none were previously vaccinated;

Illness onset dates range from 3/31/2013 – 6/15/2013;

54 (45%) ill people have been hospitalized, and no deaths have been reported.

Investigation by state and local health departments, FDA, and CDC is ongoing. Costco notified its members who purchased this product since late February 2013, and has removed the “Townsend Farms Organic Antioxidant Blend” frozen berry and pomegranate mix from its shelves. The product was distributed in 12 states (AZ, AK, CA, CO, HI, ID, MT, NV, NM, OR, UT, and WA); however, no cases from Alaska, Idaho, Montana, Oregon, or Washington have been linked to the outbreak at this time. One case was reported from Wisconsin, however, the product was not distributed in the state and the person was exposed in California.