JONESBORO, AR (KAIT) - Arkansas health officials warn the latest hepatitis A outbreak is just beginning and could get much worse.
So far, the virus has spread to two Arkansas counties in Region 8: Clay and Lawrence.
Dr. Dirk Haselow, the state's epidemiologist, told Little Rock TV station KATV, that the Arkansas Department of Health expects more confirmed cases in the coming weeks.
The outbreak began at the Taco Bell in Corning, 200 N. Missouri Ave., when an employee tested positive for the virus. Another case was also reported in Corning at the Flash Market/Subway, 105 N. Missouri Ave. The latest case was reported last week at the Doublebee's gas station, 1003 Hwy. 63 in Walnut Ridge, when an employee tested positive.
"It comes down to hand hygiene," Haselow said. "If you wash your hands really well before you touch food and after you use the restroom, you can protect others from getting it."
Last year, according to the Centers for Disease Control, Arkansas reported just two cases of hepatitis A. That number has already risen to 13 this year.
However, the CDC says other states have seen even greater increases.
As of April 21, the number of hepatitis A cases nationwide has nearly doubled the total cases reported in 2017. The cumulative total so far is 1,122 compared to last year's 604 cases.
This year Indiana reports 89 Hep A infections compared to just 6 last year. Utah saw its infections jump from four to 88. Missouri's number of cases rose from one reported in 2017 to 86 this year.
Kentucky has seen one of the greatest increases, according to the CDC, jumping from two cases in 2017 to a whopping 344 cases this year.
Some symptoms of hepatitis A infection include:
- Loss of appetite
- Abdominal pain
- Clay-colored stools
- Dark urine
- Joint pain
- Jaundice (yellowing of the skin and eyes)