Joplin and Jasper County Health Departments are investigating local cases of a statewide Hepatitis A outbreak that has been occurring in Missouri over the past couple years. Health officials with the City and Jasper County Health Departments are making the public aware that the departments have seen a higher than average number of Hepatitis A cases recently.
Cynthia Burnham, RN, BSN, is the Coordinator of the Medical Division and is working closely with other area agencies in monitoring these cases and any new cases.
According to Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services (MDHSS) Hepatitis A is a highly contagious liver infection caused by the Hepatitis A virus. It can range from a mild illness lasting a few weeks to a severe illness lasting several months. Although rare, Hepatitis A can cause death in some people. Hepatitis A usually spreads when a person unknowingly ingests the virus from objects, food, or drinks contaminated by small, undetected amounts of stool from an infected person.
In recent years, outbreaks in Missouri, and in the United States, have primarily been from person-to-person contact, especially among people who use drugs, (with or without needles), people experiencing homelessness, and men who have sex with men.
“We have confirmed five cases to date in Joplin and the Jasper County Health Department has one case,” Burnham said. “Although this may not sound alarming, it is a larger number than normally identified, and there are increasing numbers in other communities within our region.”
Because the disease is easily spread, Burnham reminds the public that good hand hygiene practices can reduce contracting Hepatitis A. Joplin Health officials are also partnering with Jasper County Health Department to offer vaccinations for Hepatitis A to the public.
In addition, health department staff are reaching out directly to the higher risk populations to offer this vaccination as a preventative measure to the spread of this disease.
MDHSS has noted that they’ve seen an increase in the past two years. According to their website, 492 cases of the Hepatitis A virus infection have been linked to the outbreak since September 2017.They stated that there have not been any common sources of food, beverages, or drugs identified as a potential source of the infection.
If symptoms develop, they can appear abruptly and can include: fever, fatigue, loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, dark urine, clay-colored stools, joint pain, and jaundice (yellowing of the skin and eyes). If symptoms occur, they usually start appearing four weeks after exposure, but can occur as early as two and as late as seven weeks after exposure.
For more information about this communicable disease, visit Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services website at https://health.mo.gov/living/healthcondiseases/communicable/hepatitisa/index.php
For more information on availability of a Hepatitis A vaccination, please call the Joplin City Health Department at 417-623-6122 or the Jasper County Health Department at 417-358-3111.