It seems that hardly a week passes without a warning from a health department somewhere that an infected food handler is the source of yet another potential hepatitis A outbreak. Absent vaccinations of food handlers, combined with an effective and rigorous hand washing policy, there will continue to be more hepatitis A outbreaks. It is time for health departments across the country to require vaccinations of foodservice workers, especially those that serve the very young and the elderly.  Over the last several years, I have brought Hepatitis A claims against Carl’s Jr., Chi-Chi’s, D’Angelo’s, Friendly’s, Maple Lawn Dairy, McDonald’s, Quizno’s, Silver Grill Location Catering and Subway.

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) estimates that 83,000 cases of hepatitis A occur in the United States every year, and that many 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. In 2003, 650 people became sickened, 4 died and nearly 10,000 people got Ig shots after eating at a Pennsylvania restaurant. Not only do customers get sick, but businesses lose customers or some simply go out of business.

Hepatitis A continues to be one of the most frequently reported, vaccine-preventable diseases in the United States, despite the FDA-approval of hepatitis A vaccine in 1995. Widespread vaccination of appropriate susceptible populations would substantially lower disease incidence and potentially eliminate indigenous transmission of hepatitis A infections. Vaccinations cost about $50. The major economic reason that these preventative shots have not been used is because of the high turnover rate of foodservice employees. The argument is that why should I vaccinate my employee only to have them leave in a few months to another restaurant? That argument disappears, and eating out becomes a whole lot less of a gamble, if all foodservice workers faced the same requirement.

According to the CDC, the costs associated with hepatitis A are substantial. Between 11% and 22% of persons who have hepatitis A are hospitalized. Adults who become ill lose an average of 27 days of work. Health departments incur substantial costs in providing post-exposure prophylaxis to an average of 11 contacts per case. Average costs (direct and indirect) of hepatitis A range from $1,817 to $2,459 per case for adults and from $433 to $1,492 per case for children less than 18 years of age. In 1989, the estimated annual direct and indirect costs of hepatitis A in the United States were more than $200 million, equivalent to more than $300 million in 1997 dollars.

From this moning’s Kane County Chronicle

Hep A shots continue, lawsuit in works

On Thursday, the Seattle-based law firm Marler Clark said in a release that they would be filing a class-action lawsuit against the restaurant on behalf of Geneva resident Rebecca Johnson and her family.

People who ate at the restaurant between Jan. 8 and Jan. 19, especially those who ordered drinks with ice, should call the health department hotline at (630) 444-3300. The department set up a clinic that runs from 7:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. It started Monday and ends Feb. 2 at 1330 N. Highland Ave., Aurora.

Department spokesman Tom Schlueter said that, as 3 p.m. Thursday, the department had given 2,335 shots of immunoglobulin and returned 1,001 calls from the hotline.