Another foodservice worker in Kentucky has been confirmed infected with the hepatitis A virus, but this time a McDonald’s location is implicated and the customers who ate and drank there are not the only people at risk. The fast food giant’s shareholders saw their stock dip with the news.

Madison County (Kentucky) Health Department officials say only people who ate or drank anything from the McDonald’s on Glades Road in Berea, KY, on March 23 were potentially exposed to the virus by the infected employee. 

It is beyond the window of opportunity for those McDonald’s customers to receive post-exposure treatment, which must be administered within two weeks of exposure. Therefore, public health officials are urging the customers from March 23 to monitor themselves and their children for signs of infection through May 12. It can take up to 50 days after exposure for hepatitis A symptoms to develop.

News of the confirmed infection in the McDonald’s employee was picked up by media including local newspapers, regional broadcast outlets, and many national and international new organizations. Similar reports in recent months involving independent restaurants and lower profile chains, including Waffle House, have not generated such interest.

McDonald’s stock began Thursday in positive territory with an early gain of more than 1.0 percent. Soon things turned negative, with the fast food giant closing out the day on the New York Stock Exchange at $1.72 less per share that at the opening bell. That amounted to a 0.62 percent drop. 

Despite Wall Street’s reaction, county health officials reported high marks for the McDonald’s in Berea, KY.

“It should be noted that McDonalds is fully cooperating with local and state health officials to investigate this case,” according to a statement from the Madison County Health Department. 

“It should also be noted that this McDonalds received a score of 100 percent on their most recent health department inspection in February.”

For the 12 to 18 months cities, counties and states across the country have been fighting the highly contagious virus. The majority of the cases are from a strain of hepatitis A identified in California, which was the first state to declare the outbreak.

While the majority of victims so far have been homeless, substance abusers or both, infections are increasingly being identified in people who are neither homeless nor substance abusers. 

Also, foodservice workers are increasingly becoming infected, which has the potential of exposing large numbers of people to the virus. People are contagious before they show signs of illness, which makes it difficult to identify infected food handlers. Some infected people, especially children, never develop symptoms, but they can transmit the virus to others. 

Advice to consumers
Anyone who consumed foods or beverages from the McDonald’s on Glades Road in Berea, KY, should monitor themselves and their children for symptoms of hepatitis A infection through May 12.

Symptoms can include fever, jaundice, grey-colored stools, dark urine, abdominal pain, vomiting, fatigue, loss of appetite, nausea and joint pain. Symptoms usually resolve in two months but can last six months or longer. Generally few people require hospitalization, but the ongoing multi-state outbreak has had an unusually high percentage of victims admitted to hospitals.

Hepatitis A can be spread when an infected person does not wash his or her hands properly after going to the bathroom and then touches objects or food. Also, caregivers who do not properly wash their hands after changing diapers or cleaning up the stool of an infected person can transmit the virus to others. Sexual contact and other close personal contact with an infected person can result in infections in people who have not been vaccinated.

The hepatitis A vaccine, which is given in two injections six months apart, is more than 95 percent effective in preventing the infection, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.