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Hepatitis A exposure possible at food pantry amid outbreak

12 January 2018

Thousands of people may have been exposed to the virus, but no deaths have been reported yet. MI has been hardest-hit in terms of deaths, with 22.

Outbreaks of hepatitis A began cropping up sporadically throughout the USA in March of 2017, spurring the California government to declare a public health emergency. Meanwhile Michigan, with about 25 percent of California's population, is now close to that total with 658 reported cases.

Fighting the outbreak was challenging in many jurisdictions due to a national shortage of the vaccine for hepatitis A.

Jay Fiedler, MDHHS section manager for surveillance and infectious disease epidemiology, says there's no sign the number of reported cases in MI is slowing, though it does seem to have "plateaued" recently.

Tabitha's Way Local Food Pantry in Spanish Fork is the latest Utah food establishment where patrons may have been exposed to the viral liver disease hepatitis A, according to the Utah County Health Department.

Since the outbreak first hit homeless people and drug users, Utah officials speculate that it might have spread as individuals shifted between homeless centers in San Diego and Utah.

Anyone who might have been exposed is urged to contact health officials, and possibly get vaccinated.

According to a new report from ABC News, Nicholas Rupp, a spokesman for the Salt Lake County Health Department, said that tests have linked the Utah hepatitis A outbreak to another outbreak in San Diego, California.

And three more possible cases made headlines this week: Salt Lake County Health Department announced possible exposure at a 7-Eleven convenience store, closely followed by a warning from the Utah County Health Department for customers of two Spanish Fork restaurants: an Olive Garden location and a Sonic Drive-In. "We are seeing similar hospitalization rates as San Diego, about 60%, but we have fortunately not seen any deaths". Both restaurants said they're also vaccinating all their workers as a precaution. "And everyone should practice handwashing after being in public places to protect themselves from exposure". Packaged foods are not affected, according to the Health Department.

Officials said 7-Eleven is cooperating with the health department's investigation and has sanitized the store.

Ralph Clegg, UCHD Executive Director said in a statement, "The potential exposures of Hepatitis A in food service establishments serves as a reminder to food service establishment owners and operators that food handler employees need to be encouraged and required to not work when ill".

The infection can cause abdominal pain, fever, diarrhea and vomiting, but if it goes untreated, prolonged liver inflammation can be deadly.

Hepatitis A typically spreads when traces of infected feces reach the mouth through contaminated food, water or unclean hands.

People can also spread it long before they know they've been infected because it has a long incubation time of up to seven weeks.

Hand-washing is the most effective way to prevent the spread of the disease, so the employee likely failed to properly clean theirs. GlaxoSmithKline and Merck are the only companies approved by the Food and Drug Administration to sell a hepatitis A adult or pediatric vaccine in the US.

Hepatitis A exposure possible at food pantry amid outbreak