Michigan officials made an urgent appeal Thursday for anyone who has eaten baked goods from a specific Meijer grocery store to immediately seek medical attention because an employee there has been confirmed with a hepatitis A infection.

A narrow window of opportunity exists for people to receive post-exposure treatment to prevent infection. Those at risk include anyone who ate bakery goods made on-site at the Meijer store at 1015 Pickard Street in Mt. Pleasant, MI, from Aug. 23 through Sept. 20.

People exposed to the hepatitis A virus through foods from the bakery have only two weeks to obtain the post-exposure vaccine or immune globulin shots. If given more than two weeks after exposure the shots are ineffective against the virus.

The Meijer company is offering post-exposure vaccines free of charge at its Mt. Pleasant location to any Meijer employees or customers who are concerned about exposure. People who have had hepatitis A disease or previously received the hepatitis A two-dose vaccine do not need to be immunized again.

Check your pantries
State officials are concerned that people may have unconsumed bakery products from the Mt. Pleasant Meijer store, which could spread the virus if eaten or handled.

The baked goods could also contaminate storage containers and surfaces such as kitchen counters.

Implicated baked goods will bear the Meijer Bakery label, and include individual items such as single doughnuts and rolls from the self-serve case, according to a Thursday alert from the state health department.

“Consumers with any of these products still in their home should discard them immediately,” the health department warned. “Freezing does not kill the hepatitis A virus. No Meijer stores or Meijer bakeries at other locations are affected.”

Foods contaminated with the hepatitis A virus do not look bad, smell bad or taste bad.

You could be infected and not know for weeks
It can take up to 50 days after exposure for symptoms of hepatitis A infection to develop. So anyone who ate any products made on-site at the Mt. Pleasant Meijer store should monitor themselves for signs of infection.

Symptoms of hepatitis A infection can include sudden onset of abdominal discomfort, dark urine, fever, diarrhea and yellowing of the skin and eyes.

“Duration of illness typically lasts several weeks to several months,” according to the Michigan health department. “Treatment of hepatitis A is supportive, and most people will recover without complications. However, individuals who have liver disease and become infected with hepatitis A are at risk for liver failure.”

Elderly people and people with suppressed immune systems, including cancer patients and transplant recipients, are at higher risk of serious illness if infected with the virus.

Most children have been routinely vaccinated against the virus in recent years, but many adults have never had the two-shot vaccine.

“Individuals with hepatitis A are infectious for two weeks prior to symptom onset,” the health department warns. “Symptoms usually appear over a number of days. … Anyone who develops symptoms of hepatitis A infection should stay home and contact their healthcare provider.”

Ongoing statewide outbreak
Although no illnesses had been confirmed in connection with the Meijer store as of Thursday, state and local health officials across Michigan have been investigating a 13-month hepatitis A outbreak that has so far sickened at least 319 people, killing 14. The outbreak victims are mostly from the city of Detroit and Macomb, Monroe, Oakland, Wayne and St. Clair counties.

A source of the outbreak has not been determined, but health officials say the virus is likely being spread by person-to-person contact, rather then by contaminated food or water.

“Of these cases, nearly 86 percent have been hospitalized,” according to a Thursday update from the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services. “This represents a 16-fold increase for these jurisdictions from Aug. 1, 2014 to Sept. 15, 2015.”

Eighty-one cases were diagnosed in August this year, compared with six reported to the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services in August 2016.

For more information about viral hepatitis, visit www.michigan.gov/hepatitis or www.cdc.gov/hepatitis.  For important information about immunizations, visit Michigan’s I Vaccinate Campaign at www.ivaccinate.org.

(To sign up for a free subscription to Food Safety News, click here.)