As Northeast Arkansas continues to be heavily affected by an ongoing hepatitis A (hep A) outbreak, the Arkansas Department of Health (ADH) will host two public clinics to vaccinate residents of Greene County. Hep A is a contagious liver disease that can be prevented by vaccination. 

The ADH recommends all Greene County residents between the ages of 19 and 60 get vaccinated. Vaccines will be available from 7:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 23 and 7:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 30, at the Paragould Community Center at 3404 Linwood Dr. 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. If someone does not have insurance, or if their insurance does not cover the vaccine or charges a copay, the vaccine will still be provided at no cost to the patient.

Since February, 94 cases of hep A have been reported as part of the outbreak, including one death. Greene County has had the most cases, although there have been cases in Clay, Craighead, Independence, Lawrence, Mississippi, Monroe and Randolph counties.

Along with getting the vaccine, all Greene County residents should 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. 

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.  

The ADH is focusing on vaccinating 19 to 60 year olds because most 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 housin

*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. 

There are no specific treatments once a person gets hep A, but the 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.

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.