Hepatitis A vaccinations were administered to hundreds of people over the weekend and through Monday in New York City after the announcement last Friday that a worker and four customers at the New Hawaii Sea Restaurant were infected with Hepatitis A virus (HAV). Health officials are urging those who ate at the establishment from September 7th through the 19th to be immunized as a precaution, and the restaurant is to be closed while workers are vaccinated.
People acquire HAV through direct contact with infected individuals or through water, food, and surfaces contaminated by the fecal material of infected individuals. Although people with HAV infection usually recover without needing treatment and it is rarely fatal, the symptoms are unpleasant and can last for weeks or months. To recap from our previous berry outbreak post, people generally have gastrointestinal or liver-related symptoms a month after exposure to HAV. This includes a fever (and all of the aches, pains, and weariness that come with it) and yellowing of the skin and eyes, dark urine, and pale stool (all from the damage caused to the liver), along with nausea and vomiting. People can also shed the virus and spread it to others before they even show symptoms, and some people infected with the virus never become ill but still shed the virus. These characteristics and the long incubation period of the virus complicate finding where it originally came from and where it might turn up next. Case in point, can you remember what you ate for dinner a month ago?
The good news is that the disease can be prevented by vaccination, either ahead of time as part of a normal vaccination schedule, or within two weeks of exposure. This is what New York City has been doing, and the people getting the HAV vaccine are allowing their bodies to generate at least short-term immunity by the time they might be fighting off the infection when the virus comes out from its weeks of hiding and replicating inside liver cells.