DHEC Advises of Possible Hepatitis A Exposures at Second Aiken Restaurant
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
February 13, 2019
COLUMBIA, S.C. – DHEC was notified on February 12, 2019, that an employee of City Billiards tested positive for hepatitis A. Customers who ate there between January 22 and February 5 could have been exposed to the virus. DHEC is working with City Billiards to investigate possible exposures and have arranged preventive vaccination for anyone who may be affected.
In light of these findings, DHEC is declaring a hepatitis A outbreak in Aiken County. An outbreak is defined as an unexpected increase in the number of cases in a geographic area or time period. There have been 10 hepatitis A cases diagnosed in Aiken County since December 1, 2018.
This is the second case of hepatitis A diagnosed in an Aiken-area food handler in February. At this time, DHEC is not aware of a known connection between the two cases.
It is important to note that these cases are not a food-related outbreak. In this case, as well as the case reported on February 4, 2019, DHEC State Epidemiologist Dr. Linda Bell says, “The risk of the hepatitis A virus spreading from an infected employee to customers in a restaurant setting is low. The concern is with a food handler with hepatitis A infection, not the restaurant.”
As a precaution, in these situations, vaccination is recommended for individuals who were exposed during the time the food handler was contagious.
Post-exposure vaccination is recommended for individuals who have not been previously vaccinated if it can be administered less than two weeks from their date of consuming anything from the restaurant, with the last date of exposure being February 5, 2019. DHEC will offer no-cost hepatitis A vaccines to individuals who may have been exposed as a precaution.
Customers and staff who ate food prepared at the restaurant from January 31 - February 5 are encouraged to contact their healthcare provider, or come to the Aiken County Health Department located at 222 Beaufort St. NE in Aiken for post-exposure treatment on the following date and times:
· Thursday, February 14, from 10 a.m. – 6 p.m.
· Friday, February 15, from 10 a.m. – 6 p.m.
· Saturday, February 16, from 10 a.m. – 4 p.m.
The vaccine is not shown to prevent infection when administered more than 14 days after a specific exposure. However, vaccination more than 14 days after exposure will give long-lasting protection from infection from future exposures.
As of today, customers and staff who ate at the restaurant between January 22 – January 30 are not likely to benefit from post-exposure vaccination. Anyone who ate at the restaurant between these dates should be aware of the symptoms of infection. Testing for hepatitis A is not recommended unless individuals develop symptoms. It is important to seek medical care if symptoms develop.
Hepatitis A is contagious liver infection caused by the hepatitis A virus. Most people who get hepatitis A feel sick for several weeks, but they usually recover completely and do not have lasting liver damage. People usually become sick within two to six weeks after being exposed to the virus. Symptoms of infection include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, belly pain or yellowing of the eyes and skin.
If patrons of the restaurant have questions or concerns, please contact DHEC’s Careline at 1-855-472-3432. Careline staff will be available from 8 a.m. until 6 p.m on Thursday, February 14, and Friday, February 15, and from 10 a.m. until 4 p.m., Saturday, February 16 from and from 8 a.m. until 6 p.m. on Monday, February 18 to answer your questions. For more information about hepatitis A, visit the CDC’s website.
Nationally, there is a rise in hepatitis A cases in many states. These cases have mostly been seen in people who use injection or non-injection drugs, those who are homeless or have no permanent residence, men who have sex with men, people who have a history of incarceration, and those who have close contact with infected individuals.
Certain individuals are at greater risk for severe hepatitis A infection and are encouraged to seek vaccination. Those individuals include anyone with a weakened immune system, liver disease (such as hepatitis B or C) or anyone who uses injection or non-injection drugs. Hepatitis A vaccine is available from health care providers, select pharmacies and DHEC health departments. South Carolina Health departments are offering no cost hepatitis A vaccine to individuals who are drug users, homeless, men who have sex with men, or those who have a history of incarceration.