Missouri health officials raise concerns about hepatitis A outbreak

SPRINGFIELD, Mo. -- More than 400 cases of hepatitis A have been reported across the state of Missouri. After a recent outbreak in Howell County, the Springfield Greene County Health Department is now asking you to get vaccinated.

The statewide outbreak began in September 2017, nearly two years ago. In Greene County, there have been nine confirmed cases. But the statewide numbers are now climbing each week, now at 414 cases. Howell County has the largest number of cases in the Ozarks at 45.

Common symptoms include fever, fatigue, nausea, abdominal pain and vomiting. A person may also have dark colored urine and yellowing of the skin and eyes.

Health officials say those most at risk include those who use recreational drugs, are experiencing homelessness, those who have been in jail, or have close contact with someone who has hepatitis A. The virus can be transmitted in ways like through drug paraphernalia or sexual contact, but it is usually transmitted through food and drinks.

Several years ago, an employee at a Springfield restaurant was diagnosed with hepatitis A. You may recall, that case led to mass vaccinations for everyone who had visited the restaurant. None of the cases this time have been among food handlers, but health official still encourage everyone to get vaccinated.

"If you haven't had the hepatitis A vaccine, get it," said Stephanie Woehl, Springfield-Greene County Health Department Communicable Disease Prevention Coordinator. "We strongly encourage anyone who may be food handling or any close contact or if they are part of that high-risk group, get vaccinated. But really, if you eat or drink, you can come in contact with the hepatitis A virus."

The Springfield-Greene County Health Department is offering free vaccines for uninsured at-risk populations. They can either call to make an appointment or come to vaccine clinics here at the health department on Wednesdays from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. until September 15.