Presently, there has been outbreaks of hepatitis A that were first identified in 2016. I started noticing the outbreak in San Diego in 2016, spreading to Utah, Kentucky and beyond. Now 30 states have publicly reported the following as of August 30, 2019
- Cases: 24,952
- Hospitalizations: 14,984 (60%)
- Deaths: 244
Although many of the illnesses have been linked to homelessness and drug use, other illnesses are simply from an unknown cause. To help stop the outbreaks, the CDC recommends the hepatitis A vaccine for people who use drugs (including drugs that are not injected), people experiencing homelessness, men who have sex with men, people with liver disease, and people who are or were recently in jail or prison.
With food service being one of the lower paying positions, an interesting question to ask is how many food service workers fit into one or more of the above categories?
However, according to the CDC, the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices continues to recommend only that the following persons be vaccinated against hepatitis A:
- All children at age 1 year,
- People with unstable housing or experiencing homelessness
- Persons who are at increased risk for infection,
- Persons who are at increased risk for complications from hepatitis A, and
- Any person wishing to obtain immunity.
Which groups do NOT need routine vaccination against hepatitis A?
- Food service workers. Foodborne hepatitis A outbreaks are relatively uncommon in the United States; however, when they occur, intensive public health efforts are required for their control.
- Although persons who work as food handlers have a critical role in common-source foodborne outbreaks, they are not at increased risk for hepatitis A because of their occupation. Consideration may be given to vaccination of employees who work in areas where community-wide outbreaks are occurring and where state and local health authorities or private employers determine that such vaccination is cost-effective.
Although the CDC feels the risks to restaurant patrons from a hepatitis A ill food service worker is “relatively uncommon,” it certainly can be with tragic consequences. Next week I will be in Court in upstate New York on behalf of the family of a 58-year-old mother and grandmother who died of acute hepatitis A induced liver failure in 2015. She, and her family, suffered horribly. She spent months hospitalized hovering between life and death. Her medical expenses were several hundreds of thousands of dollars. The loss to her family is incalculable.
The unvaccinated food service worker who transmitted hepatitis A to this grandma worked while infectious before she showed any signs of symptoms of the infection. Had she been vaccinated against hepatitis A this mother would not be dead and I would not be in Court against one of the largest restaurant chains in the world (let’s call it “fast food restaurant A” – the CDC will get my humor).
And, it is not like this chain has avoided hepatitis A in the past. I have sued them several times because unvaccinated hepatitis A positive employees sickened customers. I have also sued them multiple times for exposing thousands of customers and requiring them to seek hepatitis A vaccination to protect themselves – and the restaurant chain – from the ravages of a hepatitis A infection.
I recently challenged members of the food service industry – including “fast food restaurant A” – to voluntarily vaccinate employees against hepatitis A, and I would never sue them for anything ever in the future. My phone still has not rung.
Yes, I have other examples – hundreds of customers sickened, with some dying, after been exposed to a hepatitis A infectious food service worker – just recently over 20 were sickened and 1 died after being exposed to a food service worker at a New Jersey golf and country club. I have also seen tens of thousands of exposed customers standing in long lines to be vaccinated, with those vaccinated primarily being paid by taxpayers. The news is replete with daily warnings of yet another hepatitis A positive employee exposing customers.
In the last week, in a community seeing a current spike in hepatitis A illnesses that had previously required hepatitis A vaccinations for food service workers, was asked why they would no longer require it. The response – or excuse – put the onus on the CDC – “we will not do it because the CDC does not recommend it.” As the Church Lady says: “How convenient.”
CDC, it is time for a change.
In 2000, I wrote this:
In light of the recent, large-scale Hepatitis A exposure in the San Francisco Bay Area, food safety attorneys of the Seattle-based law firm of Marler Clark, are asking restaurants and food manufacturers to voluntarily vaccinate all workers against Hepatitis A. “In the last six months Hepatitis A exposures have been linked to two Seattle-area Subways, a Carl’s Jr. in Spokane, WA, Hoggsbreath, a Minnesota restaurant, and three restaurants in Northwest Arkansas, IHOP, U.S. Pizza, and Belvedeers. Now more than seven- hundred children are being vaccinated against this potentially deadly virus in California after possible consumption of contaminated strawberries. Furthermore, this isn’t the first time that strawberries have been implicated in the outbreak of a foodborne disease.” Marler continued, “Restaurants and food manufacturers must take action and voluntarily vaccinate all of their employees.”