Franklin County, MO has joined the shortlist of cities and counties requiring hepatitis A vaccines for restaurant workers. A deadly national hepatitis A epidemic touched Franklin County more than 50 times in the last year.

And health officials twice had to mobilize to vaccinate restaurant patrons after restaurant workers tested positive for the virus. Hepatitis A is a highly contagious disease that attacks the liver.

Vaccine and tests for hepatitis A for restaurant workers generally only occur after someone is infected. State laws, where they exist, usually require vaccines only for hospital, nursing home, and school workers.

The Franklin County Health Department is contacting businesses now about compliance with the new ordinance.

The ordinance requires vaccines for all restaurant workers and anyone involved in food preparation. It covers hospital cafeterias, school kitchens, daycare facilities, nursing homes, catering businesses, and mobile food outlets.

Union City BBQ co-owner Jeffrey Stevenson told local media that he was surprised the ordinance wasn’t adopted “a long time ago.” His employees are already vaccinated.

Unless offered by the Health Department at a reduced price, hepatitis vaccinations cost around $100 in Union, MO, the county seat of Franklin County.

In the last three years, 29 states have reported 23,638 hepatitis A cases.  Sixty percent required hospitalizations and 233 deaths are associated with the outbreaks.

Vaccinations are the principal weapon health officials use in combatting the epidemic. They target the most at-risk populations, drug users, and the homeless. And when a food service worker tests positive for hepatitis A, exposed restaurant patrons are offered vaccines.

Two doses of the hepatitis A vaccines, taken about six months apart, can provide long-lasting immunity. The first may even occur while the transmission is occurring.

Restaurant workers found on the job while infected with hepatitis A can be very costly. Customers who must go through the time and expense of getting a vaccination often bring class-action lawsuits to recoup their time and expense costs.

A class action against a Westchester County, NY restaurant that exposed customers to Oct. 12-23, 2017 is currently looking at a $691.000 settlement demand.

Hepatitis A vaccines are not mandatory for restaurant workers in most jurisdictions because health officials don’t think they are usually needed. The thinking, before the current epidemic, was that food service workers are no more at risk than others. That thinking may be changing as a result of the current epidemic as each time restaurant customers are exposes to the virus, health officials have to redeploy resources from away from the at-risk populations.

More than 15 million people are employed by the restaurant industry, according to the National Restaurant Association (NRA).  And nine in ten restaurants employ 50 or fewer employees.

Meanwhile, another employee infected with hepatitis A exposed restaurant patrons in Florida. Health officials issued a warning after identifying a case of hepatitis A in an Ocala restaurant employee.

An employee at the Charlie Horse Restaurant and Lounge, located at 2426 E. Silver Springs Blvd., may have been contagious from July 18 to Aug. 1.

Anyone who ate or drank at Charlie Horse from July 24 to Aug. 1 should get vaccinated with two weeks, according to Florida’s Marion County Health Department.

Charlie Horse customers from July 18 to July 23 should keep an eye out for any signs or symptoms of hepatitis A and report them to medical professionals immediately, health officials said.

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