LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (News release) – The Arkansas Department of Health (ADH) is warning of a possible hepatitis A (hep A) exposure after an employee of the Red Lobster, at 7401 Rogers Ave. in Fort Smith tested positive for the virus. Hep A is a contagious liver disease. This case appears to be related to travel outside of the state and is not thought to be part of the current hep A outbreak in Northeast Arkansas.
Anyone who ate at this facility from July 19 to Aug. 4 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. The vaccine and medicine works best if given within two weeks of exposure to the virus. However, if it has been more than two weeks since potential exposure but symptoms have not yet developed, the vaccine may still be given.
Clinics will take place at Ben Geren Park, 7700 S. Zero St. in Fort Smith at the community storm shelter:
Friday, Aug. 10 from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Saturday, Aug. 11 from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.
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 hep A vaccine is safe and effective. Vaccines are also available at many pharmacies and doctor’s offices.
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.
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.
As a matter of policy, restaurant employees use disposable gloves between customers and while preparing food. These behaviors have likely reduced the risk of illness to the public. At this time there is no known risk to anyone who ate at this location after August 4, 2018.
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).
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.
For more information about hep A, visit www.healthy.arkansas.gov.