Diners at Kingsport restaurant could have been exposed to Hepatitis A

J. H. Osborne • Apr 2, 2019 at 4:38 PM

KINGSPORT — Sullivan County Regional Health Department officials confirmed Tuesday that an employee working at McAlister’s Deli, 2003 N. Eastman Road, has been diagnosed with acute hepatitis A. Persons who ate at the restaurant from March 11-27 should contact the department for more information.

McAlister’s Deli has been proactive and supportive in protecting the public’s health, according to an SCRHD press release, which included the following information:

• The franchise is cooperating with the health department and has taken preventative measures, including closing for a thorough cleaning and requiring the vaccination of all employees to ensure a clean and safe environment.

• The hepatitis A vaccine is safe, effective, and well tolerated. It is the best protection against the hepatitis A virus. Additional protective measures, such as immune globulin injections, may be recommended for certain people.

• The health department will offer free hepatitis A vaccine at both its locations: 154 Blountville Bypass, Blountville; and 1041 E. Sullivan St., Kingsport.

• Symptoms of hepatitis A are fatigue, decreased appetite, stomach pain, nausea, darkened urine, pale stools and jaundice (yellowing of the skin and eyes). People can become ill 15 to 50 days after being exposed to the virus. Anyone experiencing symptoms should seek medical attention.

• Hepatitis A usually spreads by the fecal-oral route through ingestion of contaminated food or drinks, close person-to-person contact with an infected person, and recreational drug use, particularly intravenous drugs. The best ways to prevent hepatitis A infection are to get vaccinated and to practice good handwashing to remove germs.

The following information is from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:

What is hepatitis?

Hepatitis means inflammation of the liver. When the liver is inflamed or damaged, its function can be affected. Heavy alcohol use, toxins, some medications and certain medical conditions can cause hepatitis, but a virus often causes it. In the United States, the most common hepatitis viruses are the hepatitis A virus, hepatitis B virus, and hepatitis C virus.

What is hepatitis A?

Hepatitis A is a highly contagious liver infection caused by the hepatitis A virus. It can range from a mild illness lasting a few weeks to a severe illness lasting several months. Although rare, hepatitis A can cause death. Hepatitis A usually spreads when a person unknowingly ingests the virus from objects, food or drinks contaminated by small, undetected amounts of stool from an infected person.

How serious is hepatitis A?

Most people who get hepatitis A feel sick for several weeks, but they usually recover completely and do not have lasting liver damage. In rare cases, hepatitis A can cause liver failure and death; this is more common in people older than 50 and in people with other liver diseases.

How long does the hepatitis A virus survive outside the body?

The hepatitis A virus is able to survive outside the body for months. High temperatures, such as boiling or cooking food or liquids for at least 1 minute at 185°F (85°C), kill the virus, but freezing temperatures do not.

How soon after exposure to hepatitis A will symptoms appear?

If symptoms occur, they usually start appearing four weeks after exposure, but can occur as early as two and as late as seven weeks after exposure. Symptoms usually develop over a period of several days.

How long do hepatitis A symptoms last?

Symptoms usually last less than two months, although some people (10-15 percent) with hepatitis A can have symptoms for as long as six months.

Transmission / exposure

Contamination of food (this can include frozen and undercooked food) by hepatitis A can happen at any point: growing, harvesting, processing, handling and even after cooking. Contamination of food or water is more likely to occur in countries where hepatitis A is common and in areas where there are poor sanitary conditions or poor personal hygiene. In the United States, chlorination of water kills hepatitis A virus that enters the water supply. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) routinely monitors natural bodies of water used for recreation for fecal contamination so there is no need for monitoring for hepatitis A virus specifically.

Postexposure prophylaxis (PEP)

PEP refers to trying to prevent or treat a disease after an exposure. For hepatitis A, postexposure prophylaxis is an injection of either hepatitis A vaccine or immune globulin. However, the vaccine or immune globulin is only effective in preventing hepatitis A if given within the first two weeks after exposure.

For more information, visit sullivanhealth.org, or call (423) 279-2777.