The Hepatitis A Outbreak in Utah Now Involves a 7-Eleven

//The Hepatitis A Outbreak in Utah Now Involves a 7-Eleven

The Hepatitis A Outbreak in Utah Now Involves a 7-Eleven

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An ongoing hepatitis A outbreak in Utah, originally identified in May 2017, shows no sign of ending. 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.

According to the Utah Department of Health, there have been 133 confirmed cases of hepatitis A connected to the outbreak since January 1 of last year, and health officials estimate an employee at the 7-Eleven may have transmitted hepatitis A to up to 2,000 customers. Customers who visited the store between December 26 and January 3, and consumed a self-serve beverage, fresh fruit, or any item from the hot food case, or used the store’s restroom, have been advised to contact the health department to determine their exposure risk and receive information about a vaccination to prevent hepatitis A.

“The call center received 763 calls from Monday, January 8 through Tuesday, January 9, 494 callers have been referred for the hepatitis A vaccination, and 303 vaccinations have been given at Salt Lake County clinics,” Nicholas Rupp, Salt Lake County Health Department spokesman, tells SELF. In a similar case, customers who ate, drank or used the restroom at the Olive Garden on December 23 or 24, or at the Sonic Drive-In between December 21 and 30 could have come in contact with hepatitis A via an infected employee.

“These are both laboratory-confirmed cases,” Sam Marsden, Utah County Health Department food safety program manager, tells SELF. The public hotline—801-851-HEPA (4372)—has received about 300 calls since the press release was issued on January 8.

Chances are you’ve been vaccinated against hepatitis A through a routine childhood immunization, but many adults have not been vaccinated.

“Hepatitis A is a virus that targets the liver and causes a constellation of symptoms, including nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and jaundice,” infectious disease expert Amesh A. Adalja, M.D., senior scholar at the John’s Hopkins Center for Health Security, tells SELF. The infection can be transmitted through blood (via injection drug use, for example) and sexual contact, but is primarily spread through tiny traces of fecal matter that get into the mouth, Dr. Adalja says. In the current cases, Dr. Adalja says customers may have been infected if they consumed food products that were handled and fecally-contaminated by the employees who were infected with hepatitis A.

Salt Lake County and Utah state health officials are calling for people who have visited the affected 7-Eleven, Olive Garden or Sonic Drive-In to get vaccinated. Because it may take between two and seven weeks for people to start showing symptoms, “we may not know if anyone was infected due to the possible exposure at 7-Eleven for weeks still,” Rupp says. “The first possible exposure date at the 7-Eleven is December 26, so today [January 10] is the first day that someone who was exposed that day might show symptoms. However, they may not show symptoms for five more weeks.”

Hopefully, anyone who was potentially exposed called the hotline and received a hepatitis A vaccine to protect themselves, Rupp adds.

Luckily, for most people, hepatitis A is an uncomplicated—albeit unpleasant—infection.

“Hepatitis A outbreaks are contained by vaccinating exposed individuals no later than two weeks after exposure,” Danielle Ompad, Ph.D., associate professor of epidemiology at NYU College of Global Public Health, tells SELF. Getting vaccinated within two weeks of exposure (before you start showing symptoms) may actually protect you from the infection, the Mayo Clinic explains.

Other measures include re-instituting food safety and hygiene protocols (such as hand-washing), and removing the source of the infection—such as putting an employee with hepatitis A on sick leave until they are no longer contagious. The problem is that, because it can take weeks for symptoms to appear, it’s possible for people to have hepatitis A without knowing it, Dr. Ompad warns.

But, unlike hepatitis C, hepatitis A doesn’t usually lead to long-term liver damage. Among healthy adults, hepatitis A is usually treated simply with rest, managing nausea, and taking care not to tax the liver with alcohol or certain medications, according to the Mayo Clinic. There’s no specific treatment available for hepatitis A, but in most cases, the liver is able to heal within six months.

However, for those who may have been exposed and have other health problems—especially those that affect the liver, such as hepatitis C or alcoholic liver disease—Dr. Adaljia says they should take steps to reduce their risk of contracting hepatitis A through vaccination or immunoglobulin treatment, and paying extra attention to their hygiene.

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2018-01-12T16:08:35+00:00