Several individuals in one US state and in Europe have fallen ill due to infection with hepatitis A.
Over the past few months, hepatitis A outbreaks have made headlines, leaving individuals from all over the world desperate for more information to ensure that they did not consume any of the contaminated food or beverages deemed responsible for these illnesses.
One such outbreak that has researchers scrambling for answers is that which is currently unfolding in San Diego, California. For several months, health officials from the County of San Diego Health and Human Services Agency have been investigating the outbreak, but have been met with several roadblocks. First, the long incubation period of the virus, the wide range of 15 to 50 days, has made their investigation difficult. Furthermore, contacting infected individuals who are homeless is also proving to be particularly challenging for health officials. Perhaps due, in part, to these obstacles, officials have yet to identify a common source of the outbreak.
As of May 8, 2017, 90 cases have been confirmed in San Diego, and 82%, or 74, of infections have resulted in hospitalization. That’s not all; 3 deaths have also been associated with this outbreak. The Health & Human Services Agency will update the numbers on a weekly basis—every Tuesday at 4 PM.
In the meantime, County staff have partnered up with healthcare partners to provide vaccination opportunities at targeted locations. Healthcare providers that suspect a patient may be infected with the virus are asked to inform the Epidemiology Program “before the patient leaves the emergency department or provider’s office.”
Another ongoing outbreak is taking place in Lanarkshire, a historic county in the central Lowlands of Scotland, where the case count has increased almost fivefold—going from 9 cases to 42 during the course of the outbreak. The source of the outbreak has been linked with food products available through outlets located in Airdrie and Coatbridge, made by baker JB Christie. Anyone that consumed products made and sold between March 20, 2017 and April 13, 2017 may be at risk for infection.
The National Health Service (NHS) Lanarkshire’s department of public health has since focused their efforts on promoting awareness of the virus, a message that has been particularly prominent back in the United States where May is designated as Hepatitis Awareness Month. Health officials hope that increased awareness of hepatitis A will help them identify other additional cases related to the outbreak. They even have a specific helpline individuals can call for more information on the outbreak as well as general information on the virus itself.
In a recent press release, Dr. Femi Olsen, NHS Lanarkshire consultant in public health medicine, commented on the outbreak, saying “While our investigations continue, we want to remind people that although the risk of contracting the infection is low, anyone who has experienced a flu-like illness, loss of appetite, nausea, fever, abdominal pains, or jaundice (a yellowing of the eyes or skin), should contact their [general practitioner] or, if out of hours, contact NHS24 by dialing 111.”
According to health officials, the bakery “fully cooperated” with the investigation, and due to the fact that they took additional infection control precautions—such as throwing out any fresh ingredients or food products that may transmit infection—they were deemed fit to resume services on May 2, 2017.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that 89% of food-borne outbreaks are caused by germs spreading from the hands of food preparers to the food products. One of the best ways to prevent this from happening is engaging in proper handwashing.
“Hepatitis A is usually a food-borne virus which can be spread by hand-to-mouth contact when there is poor hand hygiene,” Dr. Oshin said in the press release. “As such, one of the best ways to prevent the spread of hepatitis A infection is good hand hygiene—thorough handwashing and drying.”
The US Food and Drug Administration recommends that food workers wash their hands before any food preparation. In addition, they wear gloves when preparing any food. Food workers should also wash their hands after:
Although frequent handwashing is one of the best ways to prevent infection, it might not be enough. Anyone presenting with symptoms should visit their healthcare practitioner immediately.