We occasionally hear about hepatitis A virus (HAV) infections in food service workers. While these people are not at an increased risk for contracting HAV because of their jobs, the foods they prepare can reach large numbers of people, making these cases more likely to make headlines.
As a thought experiment, consider how many orders are prepared at an average fast food restaurant in a day. Multiply that by about two weeks, and that’s probably about the size of the potential pool of exposed people in this particular event.
On September 17th, an employee at a Hardee’s in Lyman, South Carolina, tested positive for hepatitis A virus. When health officials investigated the case, they found that this person had been in close contact with an employee at another Hardee’s in nearby Duncan, SC, who was also found to be positive for the virus. Since the symptoms of HAV can be prevented if a person is vaccinated in the two weeks following their exposure to the virus, the common action in these situations is to quickly vaccinate everyone who could have been exposed. The exposure window in this case was August 31st through September 15th.
It’s not surprising these two HAV cases have prompted a massive public health response, and as of today, almost 5,000 people have received post-exposure HAV vaccines at local health clinics in South Carolina. The shots were for the restaurant staff and those who had eaten at the two Hardee’s within the last two weeks. Patrons who had eaten at these locations after August 31st but more than two weeks ago are outside of the two-week window where the vaccine is considered effective. Everyone who ate at these two restaurants in the time frame is also being asked to watch for the common symptoms of HAV, such as nausea, vomiting, and yellowing of the skin and eyes.
The county health department clinics will continue to provide the vaccines until 5pm tomorrow. Meanwhile, the two restaurants have remained open, and it is believed food at these restaurants no longer poses a health risk.