Nearly 1,200 High School and Elementary School students are being urged to get Immune Globulin shots to prevent the spread of hepatitis A after being exposed to a hepatitis A positive cafeteria worker.
“It seems that a month hardly passes without a warning from a health department somewhere that an infected food handler is the source of a potential hepatitis A outbreak,” said attorney William Marler, managing partner of the Seattle law firm of Marler Clark. “Absent vaccinations of food handlers, combined with an effective and rigorous hand washing policy, there will be more hepatitis A outbreaks. It is time for health departments to require vaccinations of food handlers, especially those that serve the very young and the elderly” added Marler.
The average incubation period for hepatitis A infection is thirty days, but can be as long as fifty days. Preventive measures are only available for the two weeks after exposure to the virus; therefore, those patrons who ate at the school cafeteria between April 13 and 15 and were exposed to the virus should now be on the look-out for signs of hepatitis A infection.
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) estimates that 83,000 cases of hepatitis A occur in the United States every year, and at least five percent of these cases are related to foodborne transmission. In 1999, over 10,000 people were hospitalized due to hepatitis A infections and 83 people died. Although the CDC has not called for mandatory vaccination of food service workers, it has repeatedly pointed out that the consumption of worker-contaminated food is a major cause of food borne illness in the United States.
Large, well-publicized hepatitis A outbreaks have become increasingly common in the restaurant industry, including outbreaks linked to last week to a Waffle House in Tennessee, green onions served at a Chi-Chi’s restaurant in Pennsylvania last year, and outbreaks linked to infected food workers at two Seattle Subway franchises, a Carl’s Jr. restaurant in Spokane, Washington, three restaurants in Northwest Arkansas, a large wedding party in Michigan, which resulted in a death, and a large outbreak caused by a deli, D’Angelo’s, in Massachusetts. Thousands of people are forced to receive Immune Globulin injections to prevent infection every year.