Just one day after public health officials urged customers of a Hardee’s restaurant in Charlotte, NC, to get vaccinated against Hepatitis A, almost 900 people had received the post-exposure treatment.
Mecklenburg County Public Health Director Gibbie Harris on Tuesday said the Hepatitis A outbreak in the county is growing, announcing that a Hardee’s employee could have exposed 4,000 people to the virus. Harris listed days and times for vaccination clinics and implored customers and restaurant employees to visit them.
Anyone who ate at the implicated Hardee’s restaurant in Charlotte between June 13 and June 23 could have been exposed to the highly contagious liver virus via the infected employee. Infected people are generally contagious for several days before they feel ill or develop any symptoms.
Post-exposure vaccinations must be given within 14 days of exposure or they are not effective, Harris said during a news conference. After consulting with the state Tuesday (June 26), the health department is recommending a vaccination for employees and patrons who ate at the 2604 Little Rock Road Hardee’s location between June 13 and 23, Harris said.
“As of 3:30 p.m. (Wednesday), 895 vaccinations have been administered. The state has supplied the county more vaccine and no shortages are anticipated,” Harris said in a news conference Wednesday afternoon.
A list of vaccination clinics, locations and their hours of operation is available on the county health department website. The health department also set up information hotlines — 980-314-9800 in the Charlotte area, or 844-221-1926 toll free for people outside the metro area.
Since April 20 this year, there have been 10 confirmed cases of Hepatitis A in the county, which is home to the state’s largest city, Charlotte. On June 6 North Carolina health officials and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention declared an outbreak of the virus in Mecklenburg County.
The county health department did not report whether the Hepatitis A patients in its jurisdiction are infected with the same strain of the virus that has sickened more than 1,200 people across several states. The county public alerts did, however, reference the multi-state outbreak.
The ongoing multi-state outbreak has an unusually high hospitalization rate. More than two-thirds of patients have had symptoms so severe that they had to be admitted to hospitals. More than 40 people have died. The states with the most confirmed cases are California, Utah, Kentucky, Michigan, Indiana and West Virginia.
Additional cases have been confirmed in other states, including Arkansas and Ohio. In recent days officials in Ohio declared a statewide outbreak.
The majority of the cases in all states are among people who are intravenous drug users, homeless or both, primarily because of their limited access to toilet and handwashing facilities.
However, up to a fourth of the victims, depending on the state, are neither homeless nor intravenous drug users. People can become infected by eating or drinking contaminated foods and beverages. Also, anyone who has sex or other close personal contact with an infected person, or is providing care for an infected person, is at a higher risk for infection.
Foods and beverages can become contaminated with the Hepatitis A virus by fecal matter on people’s hands. The fecal matter does not have to be visible with the naked eye. Extremely small amounts of the microscopic virus are enough to contaminate large amounts of food.
Public health staff at local, state and federal levels offer the same advice regarding prevention:
- Get the hepatitis A vaccine;
- Practice safe handwashing procedures – wash your hands under warm, soapy water for at least 20 seconds after using the bathroom or changing diapers and before you prepare food; and
- Wear a condom during sexual activity.
Anyone who ate or drank food or beverages from that Hardees location in Charlotte should monitor themselves for 50 days because it can take that long after exposure to the Hepatitis A virus for symptoms to develop.
Symptoms can include nausea, fever, yellowing of the eyes and skin, dark urine, grey feces, joint pain, feeling tired, loss of appetite and stomach pain. It is important for people with these symptoms to seek medical attention and to tell their doctors about their possible exposure to Hepatitis A. Sometimes the symptoms can be mistaken for other illnesses or medical conditions.
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