Hepatitis infection can cause a yellowing of the eyes and/or skin, which is referred to as jaundice. Photo illustration

An outbreak of hepatitis A has claimed another life in Michigan. Also, another restaurant worker has tested positive for the highly contagious virus, exposing an unknown number of people who ate at a Red Lobster in the past month.

The death toll in Michigan stands at 25 as of the state health department’s most recent update, which included information up to Feb. 14. The state reported 751 confirmed cases as of that date, with more than 80 percent having required hospitalization.

Most people infected in the multi-state outbreak, which is described as having begun in California although Michigan has been tracking cases just as long, have been homeless or substance abusers. However, depending on the state, one-fifth to one-third of victims have been neither homeless nor substance abusers.

The outbreak, which includes cases in California, Michigan, Kentucky, Utah, Nevada, New York, Arkansas and Oregon, has sickened more than 1,600 people and killed at least 46.

Hepatitis A can be spread through food and beverages that are contaminated during production or by infected people during food preparation or serving. Consequently, infected restaurant employees or other foodservice workers can expose other employees or customers — often without knowing it because people are contagious before symptoms develop.

Potential exposures at Red Lobster
The most recently reported restaurant worker in Michigan who tested positive for hepatitis A potentially exposed people who ate, drank or worked at the Red Lobster restaurant at 27760 Novi Road in Novi, MI, from Jan. 15 through Feb. 14.

It is past the window of opportunity for many unvaccinated people who were at the restaurant during the possible exposure period. The post-exposure hepatitis A treatment must be giving within two weeks of exposure or it is not effective.

Anyone who ate or drank anything from the implicated Red Lobster in Oakland County and has developed symptoms of hepatitis A infection should immediately seek medical attention, county health officials said in a public advisory.

“Vaccination can prevent the disease if given within 14 days after potential exposure,” said Kathy Forzley, director of health and human services for Oakland County. “If you have eaten at this location during these dates and have not been vaccinated for hepatitis A or have a sudden onset of any symptoms, contact your doctor.”

The county had a special vaccination clinic session yesterday and has another one scheduled for 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday at 1010 E. West Maple Road in Walled Lake in the Easterseals office. 

Most children in the United States have been receiving hepatitis A vaccinations since the preventive became a routine recommendation in 2006. Even though it has been available since 1996, the vast majority of adults have not been vaccinated.

Hepatitis A is an infection of the liver caused by a virus. The virus is shed in feces and is most commonly spread from person to person by unclean hands contaminated with microscopic amounts feces. Symptoms of infection may include sudden abdominal pain, diarrhea, nausea, headache, dark urine, and/or vomiting often followed by yellowing of the skin and eyes.

Symptoms may appear from 14 to 50 days after exposure, but usually develop about one month after exposure to the virus, according to public health officials. Some people who are infected do not become sick, but they are contagious.

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