The Mississippi State Department of Health is this week investigating a second case of hepatitis A involving a restaurant worker.

The latest incident involves a Jones County restaurant employee who may have exposed customers at the Huddle House, 1304 Chantilly Street in Laurel. The Huddle House employee has been diagnosed with a hepatitis A infection. While infectious with the liver virus the employee worked at the restaurant on Jan. 26 through Jan. 29. Customers who ate at the Huddle House during that time may have been exposed to hepatitis A and should get a hepatitis A vaccination if not previously vaccinated.

Those who fear they were exposed to the virus by the Huddle House employee can receive a hepatitis A vaccination free of charge from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Thursday, Feb. 6, and Friday, Feb. 7, at the Jones County Health Department, 5168 Old Highway 11 in Ellisville.

“It is unlikely that hepatitis A was transmitted to any customers from this particular case, but as a precaution, we do recommend the hep A vaccine for anyone who ate at the Huddle House from Jan. 26 through Jan. 29 if they have not already been vaccinated,” said State Epidemiologist Dr. Paul Byers.

Huddle House management and staff are fully cooperating with the investigation to prevent illnesses from exposure, according to Byers.

On Monday and Tuesday, the state health department  offered free hep A vaccines in Warren County for customers of the Gumbo Pot, 3401 Halls Ferry Raod #5 in Vicksburg. Officials feared exposure from an infected employee for Gumbo Pot customers who ate at the restaurant on Jan. 17, 18, and 22.

Hepatitis A is a contagious liver disease that causes fever, nausea, diarrhea, vomiting, jaundice (yellowing of the skin or eyes), abdominal pain, and dark-colored urine. 

Hepatitis A usually spreads when a person unknowingly ingests the virus from objects, food, or drinks contaminated by small, undetected amounts of stool (feces) from an infected person.

 Anyone who thinks they have symptoms of hepatitis A should see a doctor. Everyone can prevent the spread of hepatitis A by carefully washing hands with soap and water, including under the fingernails, after using the bathroom or changing diapers, and before preparing or eating food.

As a reminder, there is an ongoing hepatitis A outbreak in Mississippi and surrounding states, mostly affecting those who use drugs, those who are in jail or were recently in jail, those with unstable housing or who are homeless, and men who have sex with men. The MSDH continues to recommend hepatitis A vaccination for those specific groups as well.

Mississippi is one of 32 states experiencing clusters of hepatitis A. Since first identified in 2016, these clusters have resulted in 30,586 Hepatitis A cases, including 18,724 or 61 percent resulting in hospitalization. And as of Feb. 1, there have been 307 deaths.

According to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC):

  • Not everyone with hepatitis A has symptoms. Adults are more likely to have symptoms than children.
  • People who get hepatitis A may feel sick for a few weeks to several months but usually recover completely and do not have lasting liver damage. In some people, though, the illness may be so severe that the patient needs to be hospitalized.
  • In rare cases, hepatitis A can cause liver failure and even death. This is more common in older people and in people with other serious health issues, such as chronic liver disease.

The most recent multistate hepatitis A outbreak spread not by human-to-human contact but by food occurred last year.  Eighteen people in six states were infected by blackberries purchased in from  Fresh Thyme Farmers Markets located in 11 midwest states or Woodman’s Markets, located in Wisconsin and Illinois from  Sept. 9 to 30, 2019.

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