An outbreak of hepatitis A, a contagious viral infection, has risen to record levels in Florida. Food safety and restaurant officials are taking action to prevent further spread of the disease. Rapoport’s Restaurant Group which operates Max’s Grille, Deck 84, Burt & Max’s, and Prezzo in Palm Beach County is providing vaccination opportunities for more than 60 employees in an effort to help stop the spread of the virus.
Record-Breaking Levels of Hepatitis A
So far this year in Florida, there have been around 1,900 cases of hepatitis A, which is more than three times as many as this time last year. Cases of hepatitis A have been reported in every county in the state, infecting more than a dozen restaurant workers. In an effort to combat the worrisome number of victims, restaurants throughout the state are pledging to increase their focus on cleanliness. Many restaurants are also working to ensure that employees get the vaccine.
Prevention Efforts in Restaurants
Rapoport’s Restaurant Group is leading the charge among Florida restaurants by encouraging all restaurant employees to focus on the following:
- Regular sanitation of menus
- Sanitation of door knobs
- Disinfection of all handheld objects
- Hepatitis A vaccines
Their approach has been proactive, with their human resources director reaching out to the Florida Department of Health. Rapoport asked to have employees vaccinated on restaurant property at no charge to the employees.
Other restaurant owners around the state are also taking the opportunity to minimize the outbreak. An employee in Pinellas County tested positive for hepatitis A while working at Gulfport restaurant. Management there gave staff members two weeks to get vaccinated.
The Florida Restaurant Association issued a statement saying it is “well aware” of the outbreak. In response, the Association sent out educational materials about the disease and vaccination to each of its more than 10,000 members. Health departments throughout the state are offering vaccines at no charge or at a reduced cost.
Which Restaurants are Affected by the Outbreak?
Over the past several months, all kinds of food service establishments have had workers test positive for Hepatitis A. From upscale establishments like Cooper’s Hawk Winery in Palm Beach County, to fast food restaurants like an Arby’s in Clearwater. Even specialty markets are affected, as well as tourist locations. Even at the cafe inside the Dali Museum has reported infection.
What Consumers Should Know about Hepatitis A
Highest risk populations for the disease are the homeless and IV drug users. The Florida Health Department has targeted these at-risk populations with free vaccines. It would seem that their efforts have been insufficient to stop the massive outbreak. These at-risk groups in particular can often be found working jobs with minimum wage pay, such as lower skill positions in the restaurant industry, particularly fast food.
Despite the fact that the Health Department confirms fewer than 5 percent of the cases of hepatitis A are from restaurant workers, it is not possible to quantify the risk that these infected food service workers have posed to the public at large. There is simply no way to know how many consumers could have come into contact with each infected food handler.
Each infected restaurant worker could potentially expose hundreds or thousands of people to hepatitis A. The infection is highly contagious, and even a single restaurant worker could exponentially increase the number of infection throughout the state.
This outbreak could also have global implications. Tourists visit Florida from all over the world and eat in restaurants there. Visitors to the state could contract hepatitis A and take it home to their state or country of origin.
Signs and Symptoms
Unlike food poisoning or other foodborne illnesses, victims of hepatitis A generally do not show symptoms until they have been infected with the virus for at least a few weeks. This is why vaccinating restaurant workers is so important. Food handlers could be exposing consumers to the infection for weeks before they even realize they have the infection.
The symptoms of hepatitis A include:
- Abdominal pain
- Loss of appetite
- Dark urine
- Unexplained weight loss
- Clay-colored bowel movements
- Loss of appetite
- Low-grade fever
- Dark urine
- Joint pain
- Yellowing of the skin and the whites of your eyes (jaundice)
- Intense itching
The symptoms of infection may be relatively mild and go away in a few weeks. In some cases, however, hepatitis A infection can cause severe illness that lasts several months.
Fortunately, hepatitis A is generally not fatal. Of course, it certainly can be. Since 2016, 216 people have died from the illness. This outbreak in Florida is particularly serious because 18 people have died in Florida this year alone.
Make an appointment with your doctor if you suspect you have hepatitis A.
How Hepatitis A Spreads
Hepatitis A spreads most often when a victim ingests the virus in food or drink contaminated by small, impossible-to-detect amounts of feces from someone who has the disease. If an infected restaurant worker has fecal matter on their hands, touches a menu, and a customer who touched that menu eats without washing their hands first, transmission is possible.
The most effective way to avoid contracting and spreading the virus is vaccination. Furthermore, good hand-washing practices, especially after using the restroom, can prevent spreading.
About the Hepatitis A Vaccine
The hepatitis A vaccine is administered in two doses, one immediately and another after six months. The vaccine can prevent infection if it is administered within two weeks of exposure to the virus. Consider a vaccine if:
- You have recently traveled to an area of the world with poor sanitation
- You recently ate in a restaurant that is reporting an outbreak
- Someone close to you has the infection
- You recently had sexual contact with someone who is infected
- You are an IV drug user
Are You Suffering from Hepatitis A?
If you are one of the 1,900 victims of the hepatitis A outbreak in Florida, contact Bad Food Recall. Consumers should never suffer illness due to the unsanitary practices of a restaurant or its employees. An experienced foodborne illness attorney can evaluate your experience and determine if you qualify for compensation for any medical costs resulting from hepatitis A.
To find out more, call 1-877-534-5750 or contact us online to schedule a free consultation.