By: Pooja Sharma

Officials from State Lake County Health Department, Utah issued a statement in January warning people of Eaton County who visited West Jordan 7-11 store over the past 2 weeks to have been exposed/infected by the Hepatitis A virus.

The customers who have been to the store between December 26, 2017 – January 3, 2018 have been urged by the authorities to contact the health department and have the Hepatitis A vaccination done so as to prevent the disease.

According to a press release, an employee infected by Hepatitis A worked at the store when he was ill and handled certain items. As many as 2000 customers who have been to the store within those days are exposed to the virus. This exposure affects only the single 7-Eleven location listed above.

Even though everyone who visited the store is at a risk of developing HAV there are some who are at an increased risk of getting an infection. They are as follows:

  • People who have used the restroom as infected feces can spread the infection.
  • Those who had fresh fruits or fountain drink/ any other self-serve beverage.
  • Had any item that was sold in the store’s hot food case such as pizza, hot dogs, taquitos or chicken wings.

These people have been largely affected. And they should call out the Health Department and ask about the nearest vaccination place and in case, they missed out on the 2 week time slot contact their health care provider immediately.

People who consumed bottled drinks, packaged items or microwaved foods should not be worried about the exposure that much. Even though vaccination is recommended even for people who are less at risk than others. People who get vaccination within 2 weeks of getting exposed will not develop the infection. So, if you have been to the store, you should call the Health Department as soon as possible.

Case Count:

The total cases that have been linked to the outbreak was around 2000 – with California reaching 683 as of December 29 and Michigan reaching 658 as of January 4. Since the start of 2017, there have been some 152 confirmed cases of Hepatitis A in Utah. Many cases under analysis has been linked by investigation or viral sequencing to the ongoing national outbreak of HAV infection that is also widespread in states of California and Arizona. Most of the cases are among the homeless and those who use illicit drugs (both injection and non-injection).

In previous cases and outbreaks of Hepatitis A, the hospitalization rates have been close to 40% (mostly less than) but, in this outbreak the hospitalization rates have reached to around 70%. The high rate of hospitalization might be attributed to the cases that have underlying illness such as alcoholism or the high risk of developing other Hepatitis strain infection such as Hepatitis B and Hepatitis C. Due to the ongoing outbreak, public health officials and other authorities have been working to identify the cases and contacts that have resulted in infection. They are also striving hard to provide further education and ensure opportunities for vaccination of anyone who has been affected by the outbreak or vulnerable population.

Hepatitis A can easily be spread by person to person contact…

It can be spread by the oral fecal route which means when you put something in the mouth that has been contaminated with the stool of a person who has Hepatitis A. This is why the transmission is such a concern at places where hygiene is not given much importance.

Infections can also spread by sexual route or by close contact with someone who is ill like with a household member you are taking care of or share a lot of things with. The virus like in this case above can also be spread through consuming food or drink that has been handled by an infected person. Casual contact that can happen in school or office is not associated with spread of the virus.

Safety for Food Handling employees:

Those who handle food should take extra care to maintain good hygiene. Workers should be taught on washing their hands frequently especially after using the washroom. They should wash the hands for around 20 seconds to make sure that they are squeaky clean. The hands should be washed under running water with a disinfectant taking special care around the fingernails and in the middle of the fingers. Hand washing stations should be in near reach of workers. And proper pamphlets should be put up so as to remind them of the importance of proper hygiene and sanitation.

Consider food handling employees to get vaccinated from time to time if any outbreak is widespread in your area.

If, infected, the food workers should not be allowed to return to work at least 2 weeks after the onset of symptoms.

What is Hepatitis A and what are its symptoms?

Hepatitis A is a highly contagious infection that affects liver. The incubation period of the infection is around 2 weeks and symptoms include jaundice, fever, fatigue, nausea, diarrhea, appetite loss etc. There is no specific treatment for Hepatitis A. Recovery involves adequate rest, nutritional balance and treating imbalance of fluids due to vomiting or diarrhea.

Combating the Outbreak:

The outbreak has been ongoing in the Salt Lake Valley of Utah since last summer, primarily in the drug using community and the homeless. The number of cases are not usual. Normally, 4 cases of Hepatitis A are reported each year. On August 25, 2017, CDC notified all the health departments from local level to state level of an ongoing investigation of a cluster of Hepatitis A, genotype IB infection.

All the US jurisdictions were urged to watch out for any increase in the Hepatitis A case and submit any HAV infection specimens to the CDC’s division of Viral Hepatitis Laboratory. With the help of advanced molecular detection, they would be able to better track down the outbreaks and help those in need promptly. Ensuring that everyone who has been exposed receives the vaccination on time is crucial. Working closely with state and health departments to make proper vaccination available can help combat the outbreak effectively.