The Alabama Department of Public Health (ADPH) is recommending the hepatitis A vaccine for all food service workers.
The department says while food service workers are not at a higher risk than other workers, some fall into high-risk groups and would place customers at risk if they became infected.
Risk Factors for Hepatitis A Virus:*
- 67% - Used street drugs (Injection or non-injection)
- 49% - Reported previous incarceration
- 39% - Reported oral or anal sex
- 25% - Had close contact with an HAV infected individual
- 17% - Have experienced homelessness
*statistics describe outbreak associated HAV cases in Alabama
"At first I was surprised to hear the fact that the disease is spreading at the rate it is," said Doug Smith, the owner of AM Booth's Lumberyard. "In the food service business we're always concerned about protecting the public and our employees. So to get news that this is becoming a problem is something that I definitely feel like I want to cooperate with and try to do my part to make it safer for everybody."
ADPH described Hepatitis A virus as commonly spread due to poor hand hygiene, "which allows the transfer of small amounts of stool containing the virus. Thorough hand washing after going to the bathroom and vaccination are the best ways to prevent spread of hepatitis A."
The outbreak started in September 2018 in Jackson County. Since then, it has spread across the state, reaching as far south as Baldwin County where there are between one and three confirmed cases.
"As of August 14, there were 132 confirmed outbreak-related cases in at least 25 Alabama counties. There have been multiple confirmed cases in food workers, a fact which should concern every restaurant owner and manager," stated ADPH.
"If it is determined that there has been a potential exposure to customers, this will require intensive public health efforts. In most cases of food-associated exposures through infected food handlers, the restaurant’s name will be released to the public to assist in the identification and notification of persons with potential exposure for the purposes of vaccinating those who have not been vaccinated."
Smith said education is the best way to help start to slow the spread of the virus.
"I'm prepared to start learning and I think that's what everybody in the community aught to do. We should learn what we can do best to help protect everybody," said Smith.
ADPH recommends that, food workers should
· Never touch ready-to-eat foods with bare hands
· Never work while they are sick with stomach (gastrointestinal) illnesses.
For more information about hepatitis A disease and vaccine, go to http://www.alabamapublichealth.gov/immunization/recent-outbreaks.html.
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