2 more deaths linked to hepatitis A, making outbreak toll 16; some restaurant workers had it, but no food-borne transmission found

Hepatitis A has been blamed for two more deaths, both in Franklin County, bringing to 16 the statewide toll in the outbreak of the contagious liver disease, which has lasted more than a year.

None of the deaths have been connected to food-service workers, but concern about transmission by them remains a concern. Officials in Franklin and Fayette counties confirmed the disease in two more food-service workers and urged residents to get vaccinated for hepatitis A.

“Since August 2017, more than 2,275 outbreak-associated cases of acute hepatitis A have been reported in 94 of the state’s 120 counties,” Chanda Veno reports for The State Journal in Frankfort.

Franklin County Health Director Judy Mattingly “couldn’t give the victims’ age or sex, but she did explain that both cases fit within the statewide profile of those afflicted by hepatitis A, whose mean age is 37.7 years old,” Veno reports. Mattingly told her, “As with all Kentucky cases in this outbreak, it is believed that transmission occurred through person-to-person contact — when an infected individual did not thoroughly wash their hands, thereby passing microscopic fecal matter on to another person who unknowingly ingests the virus.”

Friday, Mattingly announced that one of the latest Franklin County residents diagnosed with hepatitis A worked at a Frankfort restaurant Oct. 22-25 while ill. “While rare for restaurant customers to become infected, patrons who ate at the restaurant during that four-day span have until Thursday to receive vaccination to further protect themselves from illness,” Veno reports.

The restaurant is KFC, 1229 South U.S. 127. It “voluntarily closed for a thorough cleaning and sanitizing after being notified of the case on Thursday,” Veno reports.
Mattingly said a “remote chance” exists that the worker could have been contagious as early as Oct. 8 before experiencing any symptoms. “Those who ate at the restaurant from that date through Oct. 25 are being asked to monitor their health for any hepatitis A symptoms for 50 days after any potential exposure, wash their hands frequently with warm water and soap and stay at home and contact a health-care provider immediately if symptoms develop,” Veno reports, noting signs and symptoms of hepatitis A: jaundice (yellowing of the skin or eyes), dark-colored urine, fatigue, abdominal pain, loss of appetite, nausea, diarrhea, fever and gray-colored stools.
In Lexington, an employee of Frisch’s Big Boy on Harrodsburg Road was diagnosed with hepatitis A, marking the first time a restaurant employee was diagnosed with the disease during this outbreak,” and worked several days while ill, Mike Stunson and Karla Ward report for the Lexington Herald-Leader.

“If they had improper hand washing at any point in time they could’ve possibly transmitted the virus by not washing their hands and touching either food or any of the door handles or any of the restaurant’s plates and dishes and anything,” said Jessica Cobb, a community health officer for the Lexington-Fayette County Health Department, which advises anyone who ate at the restaurant Oct. 10-28 to get a hepatitis A vaccination. “The employee is not currently working at the restaurant and will remain off work until cleared to return,” the Herald-Leader reports.

The health department “said it is relatively uncommon for restaurant customers to become infected with hepatitis A due to an infected food handler, but the health department does recommended the vaccination,” the Herald-Leader reports. “In September, the Lexington health department recommended that all Fayette County residents get their hepatitis A vaccinations when the number of cases in the region began to surge.”

Fayette Health Commissioner of Health Dr. Kraig Humbaugh said in September, “The vaccine is effective and has an excellent track record. However, most adults have not yet been immunized since the vaccine was not given routinely as part of their childhood schedule of shots.”

Cobb said Frisch’s has been cleaned with an EPA-approved sanitizer, and “they’re also working with us to make sure that their employees get vaccinated.”

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