We occasionally see reports of cases of hepatitis A virus among workers in food establishments. While these people may not be at an increased risk of acquiring the virus because of their jobs, when it happens, they have the potential to infect a large number of people.
A worker at a popular Whataburger restaurant near the University of Texas was recently diagnosed with hepatitis A. The person is off work while they recover, and the Whataburger company has set up a hotline to answer questions while they work with public health officials to make sure proper precautions are being taken. The company has paid for vaccinations for all of their employees at this location, and is having their food handlers wear gloves.
People acquire hepatitis A virus through ingesting the virus particles, which are present in the stools of infected individuals. Foods can also become contaminated, particularly if an infected person does not practice proper hygiene and works with food. In this particular case, the worker was washing their hands and following protocols, but there is still concern the worker could have spread the virus in the environment.
The Austin-Travis County Health and Human Services Department believe the risk of infection among patrons is low, but are recommending that people who ate at the Whataburger between Aug. 7-19 and are experiencing symptoms, or are immunocompromised, older, or have liver disease, to contact their doctors.
Unfortunately, several of the symptoms of hepatitis A are not very specific, such as fever, nausea, vomiting, and abdominal pain, and many people experience a mild form of the disease they may not notice. Some of the more tell-tale symptoms include dark colored urine and yellowing of the skin or eyes (jaundice), which are related to the virus infecting the liver. Most people recover without lasting issues, and in Texas, many children are vaccinated for the virus before entering school.
Overall, cases like these are a good reminder for all of us to wash our hands properly, particularly when handing food.