MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - A message from health officials, as a Mid-South health department investigates a hepatitis A case involving a Papa John’s restaurant employee.
"This particular strain can lead to liver failure and subsequent death," said Shelby County Health Department Director Alisa Haushalter.
Haushalter says the current hepatitis A outbreak nationwide is serious. So far in Tennessee, from Dec. 1, 2017 thru Feb. 14, 2020, there have been more than 2,900 confirmed cases of hep A. Twenty-seven of those resulted in deaths.
Haushalter says Shelby County is on the lower end statewide. That could be because of a hepatitis A outbreak about a decade ago.
"Are actually lower than many other parts of the state and in part we believe it's because we already had a population that was vaccinated," said Haushalter.
The Shelby County Health Department has a strike team, assigned here by the state, that deals with hep A outreach. Officials say those most at risk of contracting hep A include anyone who has experienced homelessness, people who use recreational drugs of any sort and people who have been incarcerated recently.
On Wednesday, health officials announced an employee at this Papa John's in Horn Lake, Mississippi tested positive for hep A and could have exposed customers to the contagious liver disease.
Hepatitis A can be transmitted by close personal contact or by ingesting food or drinks that are contaminated with feces of an infected person.
"Go to the restroom and wash your hands. Make sure you have good work ethic and etiquette about yourself," said Memphis resident Eric Oliver.
On Thursday, a customer shared a voicemail with WMC after a Papa John's representative reached out to him.
The voicemail said in part, "We've been trying to get in touch with you to answer any questions you might have and to further direct you."
Health officials say hep A vaccines are routine for children who see a healthcare provider. People generally need two vaccines, about six months apart, to be protected for a lifetime.
If you think you have been exposed to the hep A case in DeSoto County, you can receive a vaccination free of charge on Feb. 21 at the DeSoto County Health Department located at 8705 Northwest Drive, Building A, Suite 1 in Southaven.
Health officials would like to remind everyone that you can prevent spreading hepatitis A by carefully washing your hands with soap and water. This includes under the fingernails, after using the bathroom or changing diapers, and before preparing food.