At least 4 to 5 people have been stricken by hepatitis A and over 3,000 have been forced to take blood tests, and/or a hepatitis A vaccine or immune globulin after dining at Bartaco in Port Chester New York.  My strong suspicion is that the owners of Bartaco wish they had employees who had been previously vaccinated against the potentially deadly virus.

Restaurant owners need to think hard about vaccinating employees given what is happening throughout the United States.

In the Detroit, Michigan area there have been 486 cases of hepatitis A, including 19 fatalities,  identified as related to an outbreak in Southeast Michigan, according to the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services.

In October, health officials said they were investigating cases at Firewater Bar and Grill and a Little Caesars Pizza location in Detroit and a restaurant worker in Ann Arbor. Cases last year were linked to Whole Foods in Detroit and Social Kitchen in Birmingham and recently at Champs Rotisserie and Spirits in Wayne County.

In San Diego, California, the county Health and Human Services Agency published new weekly totals, which add one to the number of deaths recorded since the health crisis started in November 2016. The running tally of confirmed cases also continues to increase, reaching 536 from a previous total of 516 – including 20 deaths. On September 15th the county notified the public that a worker at World Famous restaurant in Pacific Beach had tested positive.

And, thanks to the Huffington Post, you can see the problem in the whole country:

This is all preventable – especially, those caused by contact with a food service worker.

In 2006, health officials recommended routine hepatitis A vaccination for all children ages 12 to 23 months. They also recommended hepatitis A vaccinations be integrated into the routine childhood vaccination schedule, and that children not vaccinated by two years of age be vaccinated subsequently.

The vaccine is also recommended for the following people:

  • Travelers to areas with increased rates of hepatitis A;
  • Men who have sex with men;
  • Injecting and non-injecting drug users;
  • Persons with clotting factor disorders;
  • Persons with chronic liver disease;
  • Persons with occupational risk of infection;
  • Children living in regions of the U.S. with increased rates of hepatitis A; and
  • Household members and other close personal contacts.

The vaccine may also help protect household contacts of those persons infected with hepatitis A. Although generally not a legal requirement at this time, vaccination of food handlers would be expected to substantially diminish the incidence of hepatitis A outbreaks.

Although outbreaks continue to occur in the United States, no one should ever get infected if other preventive measures are taken. For example, food handlers must always wash their hands with soap and water after using the bathroom, changing a diaper, and certainly before preparing food. Food handlers should always wear gloves when handling or preparing ready-to-eat foods, although gloves are not a substitute for good hand washing. Ill food handlers should be excluded from work.

Hepatitis A is a communicable — or contagious — disease that often spreads from person to person. Person-to-person transmission occurs via the “fecal-oral route,” while all other exposure is generally attributable to contaminated food or water.

Food-related outbreaks are usually associated with contamination of food during preparation by a HAV-infected food handler. Food handlers are generally not ill when they are at peak infectivity — which is when the highest levels of the virus are present in the stool of an infected individual — because that occurs two weeks before illness begins.

HAV is relatively stable and can survive for several hours on fingertips and hands. It can live up to two months on dry surfaces. The virus can be inactivated by heating to 185 degrees F (85°C) or higher for one minute, or disinfecting surfaces with a 1:100 dilution of sodium hypochlorite (household bleach) in tap water. Freezing does not kill the virus.

Also, it must be noted that HAV can still be spread via cooked food because the food can become contaminated after cooking.

So, for goodness sake, vaccinate against hepatitis A.