Hepatitis A cases top 1,000 in Ohio, increase seen among food workers

An area health department is emphasizing the importance of vaccinations and good hand washing after seeing an increasing number of hepatitis A cases among people who work in the food business.

Workers who contract the highly contagious viral liver disease are not allowed to work at a restaurant, but it can take a while for people to notice symptoms and get tested.

Ohio and several surrounding states are the midst of an outbreak of hepatitis A, which spreads by ingesting microscopic fecal matter. Ohio has more than 1,000 confirmed outbreak-linked cases as of Dec. 3.

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There were 152 confirmed outbreak-related cases in Montgomery County as of Dec. 3, according to Ohio Department of Health.

Since January, 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. The county continues to rank as No. 1 in Ohio, which has more than 1,000 confirmed outbreak-linked cases.

Butler County Health Department said it’s seeing an increasing number of hepatitis A cases among people who work in the food business.

The majority of Montgomery County cases are infections contracted by people who use street drugs or are homeless. Dan Suffoletto, spokesman for Public Health - Dayton & Montgomery County said there have been a few cases of food workers with hepatitis A infections, but a third of the people public health has talked with have been unemployed.

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Butler County Health Commissioner Jennifer Bailer recommends food service workers who are in high risk groups get vaccinated.

Those in the high-risk category include street drug users; those who are or have recently been incarcerated; those who have traveled to countries where hepatitis A is common; the homeless or who recently were homeless; 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.

Because people can spread hepatitis A without realizing they are infected, Suffoletto said public health officials are emphasizing preventative measures for not only food service workers but for everyone.

“You never know where you might encounter hepatitis A,” he said.

Public health officials have been working to build awareness, promote good hygiene and proactively offer vaccines to high-risk populations, including holding off-site clinics at jails and for the homeless. Public Health - Dayton & Montgomery County has a food safety certification program and has added education materials about hepatitis A.

The vaccine was first recommended for children in 1996, so some older adults might not be vaccinated, Suffoletto said. Also, it is recommended but not a required vaccine, so not all children receive it.

“So we want to make sure people realize there is a vaccine and it is available,” Suffoletto said.

People should contact their health care provider a local pharmacy, a retail clinic or an urgent care office. Public health departments also carry the vaccine. An appointment can be made to get vaccinated at Public Health - Dayton & Montgomery County by calling 937-225-5700.