In the wake of a possible hepatitis A exposure in Alabama, food safety expert and attorney William Marler is calling on McDonald’s to give employees hepatitis A vaccines.

In the wake of a report linking a potential mass exposure of hepatitis A to a Northport McDonald’s restaurant, food safety expert and attorney William Marler is calling on McDonald’s to vaccinate its employees against the virus.

On March 28, the Alabama Department of Public Health released a statement indicating that people who ate at a Northport McDonald’s, located at 2000 McFarland Boulevard, from February 28 through March 14 may have been exposed to hepatitis A through an infected employee. Customers who ate breakfast at the McDonald’s on March 16 may also have been exposed.

Hepatitis A is the only foodborne illness for which a vaccine exists; however infection can only be prevented if the vaccine is given within 14 days of exposure. Therefore those individuals who were potentially exposed on March 14 and March 16 should contact a medical provider immediately to receive treatment. Those who may have been exposed prior to March 14 should have developed symptoms by now if they have contracted the virus.

“From both a public health perspective and business perspective, it makes sense for restaurants to vaccinate their employees against hepatitis A,” said Marler. “It is much simpler to take the initial proactive precaution rather than gamble on a mass scare that equates to potential illness, loss of business, and public uncertainty.”

McDonald’s has a history of hepatitis A outbreaks. In February, 1998 the Skagit County Health Department linked an outbreak to a Washington State McDonald’s. In July, 2009 the Rock Island County Public Health Department linked a hepatitis A outbreak to an Illinois McDonald’s that resulted in at least 32 confirmed illnesses and 10,000 potential exposures. In both cases an infected employee was to blame.

“I’m baffled that corporations like McDonald’s don’t take more action to prevent these types of outbreaks and scares.” Added Marler, “Not only would it demonstrate a commitment to customer safety, but it would ultimately save the corporation and the store owners money.”

Hepatitis A is a communicable disease that spreads from person-to-person. It is spread almost exclusively through fecal-oral contact, generally from person-to-person, or via contaminated food or water. Symptoms may not occur for several weeks after exposure and may include abdominal discomfort, fever, malaise, muscle aches, and a yellowing of the skin called jaundice. In rare cases, hepatitis A causes liver failure.