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Butler County Health Department: Food service workers increasingly getting hepatitis A

Hamilton Journal News - 12/11/2018

Dec. 11--BUTLER COUNTY -- The Butler County Health Department said it's seeing an increasing number of hepatitis A cases among people who work in the food business, a disease that's generally spread because people don't wash their hands.

Hepatitis A, a highly contagious liver disease, is spread by putting something in your mouth, such as food, a drink or an object that has been in contact with the feces of an infected person. In mild cases, it can last a few weeks while severe cases can last several months.

Butler County Health Commissioner Jennifer Bailer said those in food service need to get vaccinated, even if they think they may not have the virus. And some of the people who work in the food service industry are often among those people who are considered to be in the high-risk category.

"So that's a double reason to get vaccinated," she said.

Those in the high-risk category include:

--IV and marijuana drug users

--those who are or have recently been incarcerated

--the homeless (or who were homeless recently); and

--men who have sex with men.

Symptoms can include fever, feeling tired, a loss of appetite, vomiting, joint pain, jaundice, dark urine, vomiting and nausea and grey stool, and can develop up to two to six weeks after the infection occurs.

Since July, Butler County has had confirmed 245 cases of hepatitis A as of Dec. 3, but 196 of those cases have been classified as outbreak-linked. A confirmed case is classified as outbreak-linked if it meets certain definitions. The county continues to rank as No. 1 in Ohio, which has more than 1,000 confirmed outbreak-linked cases.

Bailer said since there's an increasing number of cases of the virus among food service employees, hand-washing is extremely important.

"This opens the door to the potential spread of hepatitis A to the eating-out public," she said.

The health department is asking restaurant managers and corporate offices in assisting employees to get vaccinated for hepatitis A as it could help avert an outbreak from starting in a restaurant -- or spreading wider.

"No one wants that to happen," she said.

In addition to food service employees, others who should get vaccinated sooner rather than later include:

--those who are in direct contact with people who have hepatitis A;

--children from 12 to 23 months;

--travelers to countries where hepatitis A is common;

--family and caregivers of adoptees from countries where hepatitis A is common;

--men who have sex with men;

--recreational drug users;

--people with chronic liver disease, or hepatitis B or C;

--people with clotting-factor disorders; and

--homeless people.

The vaccination is a two-series shot, but Bailer said only the first shot is needed.

The Butler County Health Department is working on four areas to decrease the number of Hepatitis A cases in Butler County, which include vaccinations, education, policy change and sanitation.

As of Dec. 3, there have been 1,670 vaccinations issued to high-risk groups by the three public health departments and districts in Butler County. Additional vaccinations have been given by private providers and clinics, but are not included in these numbers.

"We mostly see people without insurance or with Medicaid," Bailer said.

There have been more than 3,000 pieces of educational material distributed to health care and drug treatment providers, and hospitals, clinics, restaurants and homeless shelters. There have also been more than 7,000 information cards distributed to restaurants and food service workers about the importance of sanitizing to prevent the spread of hepatitis A.

People should contact their health care provider, Primary Health Solutions, a local pharmacy (such as Kroger, Walgreens, CVS, Meijer and Walmart); a retail clinic (such as Kroger Little Clinic) or an urgent care office.

Those who don't have insurance, or a means to pay for a shot, can get it for little or no costs by appointment at one of the local health departments:

--Butler County General Health District: 513-863-1770

--City of Hamilton Health Department: 513-785-7080)

--City of Middletown Health Department: 513-425-1818

If there's a group or place that wants to host shots for clients, that can be arranged. Bailer said the county makes a weekly visit to a local drug rehab facility and the county jail.


(c)2018 the Journal-News (Hamilton, Ohio)

Visit the Journal-News (Hamilton, Ohio) at www.journal-news.com

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