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Hepatitis A confirmed in fast food restaurant worker, patrons offered free vaccines

Becky Campbell • Updated Aug 1, 2019 at 1:39 PM

Nearly 400 people went to the Washington County Health Department Wednesday for a hepatitis vaccination after eating at a fast food restaurant where a case of an employee with the contagious disease was confirmed.

“Basically we we got a report of an acute hepatitis A case,” Dr. David Kirschke, medical director for the Northeast Regional Health Department. “When we investigated we discovered it was a food worker at McDonald’s,” on West Market Street. 

“Customers who visited the restaurant between noon and 11:59 p.m. on Wednesday, July 24 may have been exposed to the illness. So we estimate, during the afternoon about 500 people potentially could have eaten there,” Kirschke said. The employee had the symptoms while working that day, he said. 

Symptoms of acute hepatitis A include abdominal pain, loss of appetite, nausea, diarreia and jaundice. The disease is spread through close contact with an infected person or contaminated food or drinks,” Kirsche said. 

Hepatitis A can be spread when a person ingests fecal matter, even in very small amounts, Kirsche said.  “People who have been exposed to hepatitis A can reduce their risk of illness by receiving hepatitis A vaccination within two weeks of exposure.”

Anyone who ate at the restaurant during the specified time could have been exposed, so health officials started Wednesday vaccinating anyone who felt they needed the protection. Approximately 380 people received the vaccination, he said.

The free vaccinations will also be offered today (Thursday), 8 a.m. until 6 p.m. at the health department office on Princeton Road.

Kirsche said that restaurant management has cooperated with health officials throughout the investigation and followed a recommendation for a deep cleaning.

“We always recommend an environmental cleaning, which the restaurant has done,” Kirsche saie. “No known person with Hepatitis A is working there now.”

To prevent the spread of hepatitis A, health officials recommend thoroughly washing your hands after going to the bathroom or coming in contact with any fecal matter.

“We still think the risk is low for transmission occurring (but) the best way to protect yourself against hepatitis A is to get the vaccination,” Kirsche said. “Currently there is an outbreak among the homeless and people using drugs.

Kirshe said there have been 90 cases recently reported in Northeast Tennessee, but this was the only one associated with a restaurant. He said the CDC recommends a two-dose series of shots. The first dose would provide up to 10 years of protection, but getting both doses would be coverage for life.

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