The Arkansas Department of Health  is warning of possible hepatitis A exposures after an employee of Wendy’s at 721 North Arkansas, in Russellville tested positive for the virus.

Anyone who ate at the restaurant between Dec. 12, 2021, and Jan. 3, 2022, should seek care immediately if they have never been vaccinated against hepatitis A or are unsure of their vaccine status.

There are no specific treatments once a person contracts the liver virus. However, it can be prevented through vaccination. It can also be prevented from developing in people who have been exposed if a medicine called immune globulin is administered within two weeks of exposure. This medicine contains antibodies from other people who are immune to hepatitis A.

Local pharmacies may be able to provide vaccination or the post-exposure medicine. People should call ahead to verify their pharmacy has the vaccine in stock. Vaccination and post-exposure treatment is also available by appointment at the Pope County Local Health Unit. To schedule an appointment, call 479-968-6004. Anyone with symptoms or illness should seek care with their healthcare provider.

Hepatitis A is usually spread when a person ingests fecal matter — even in microscopic amounts — from contact with objects, food or drinks contaminated by the feces, or stool, of an infected person. The virus can also be spread through unprotected sex or sharing of injection drugs. According to provisional data, there were 390 cases of hepatitis A in Arkansas in 2020 and 467 cases in 2021.

“Hep A continues to be an issue in our state,” said Dr. Jennifer Dillaha, ADH Chief Medical Officer. “We are encouraging everyone to be aware of the risk factors for getting Hep A. If you are engaged in any of these behaviors, please get vaccinated. If you experience symptoms, visit your healthcare provider right away.”

Hep A is a contagious liver disease that results from infection with the hepatitis A virus. Typical symptoms include fever, fatigue, loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, diarrhea, 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. A person can transmit the virus to others up to two weeks before and one week after symptoms appear.

The Hepatitis A 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 the virus, typically the more severe symptoms they have. Almost all people who get hepatitis A recover completely and do not have any lasting liver damage, although they may feel sick for months.

Hepatitis A is preventable through vaccination. Hepatitis A vaccine has been recommended for school children for many years, and one dose of the 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 local health unit in your county for more information about vaccination.

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