KANAWHA COUNTY, WV (WOWK) – The Kanawha-Charleston Health Department says an employee at a Taco Bell in Kanawha County has been diagnosed with Hepatitis A.
The KCHD says this is the second investigation in Kanawha County involving a food establishment since the Hepatitis A outbreak began in February.
The Taco Bell is located at 2340 East Dupont Avenue in Belle, West Virginia.
According to KCHD, the employee did not continue to work at the restaurant after the Hepatitis A diagnosis but did work during the infectious period prior to diagnosis, which was April 11th through 27th 2018.
As a precaution, members of the individual’s family and coworkers have received Hepatitis A immunizations, according to CDC protocols.
Members of the KCHD outbreak team, which includes multiple health professionals from the Divisions of Epidemiology and Environmental Health, met with local and corporate Taco Bell officials to review restaurant food handling practices.
Inspectors were on site at the establishment and spent several days talking with employees and observing food handling procedures.
Stanley Mills, Director of Environmental Health Services, says that no unsafe food handling practices were identified that would warrant the health department issuing a warning to restaurant patrons to be immunized because of possible exposure.
The risk of transmission to the public is low, and at this time KCHD is not issuing a health advisory for people who ate at the restaurant to get vaccinated.
According to Janet Briscoe, Director of Epidemiology, transmission to the public by a food handler is uncommon if restaurant employees follow proper handwashing requirements and wear gloves.
Food handlers are not at increased risk for Hepatitis A because of their occupation unless they have identified risk factors or personal contact with a person who has risk factors.
Although transmission risk is extremely low, the health department recommends patrons who went to this Taco Bell from April 11th through 27th 2018, to monitor for Hepatitis A symptoms.
These include fever, fatigue, loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, dark urine, light colored stools, and jaundice (yellowing of the skin and eyes). If symptoms occur, seek medical attention.
Most adults have not been vaccinated for Hepatitis A. In 2006, the vaccine was added to the recommended vaccine schedule but is not a West Virginia school entry requirement. Only children attending preschool in West Virginia are required to be vaccinated for Hepatitis A.
West Virginia has been identified by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as part of a multistate Hepatitis A outbreak, joining other states including California, Indiana, Michigan, Kentucky and Utah. Transmission in cases in these states has been by person-to-person contact occurring primarily among persons who are homeless, persons who use injection and non-injection drugs and their close direct contacts.
According to the CDC website, the West Virginia Bureau for Public Health has seen an increase in the number of confirmed cases of acute hepatitis A virus since March 2018. The state outbreak has spread to four other counties according to the BPH website. This increase in cases has primarily been among IV and non-IV drug users, homeless or transient individuals, those who have been recently incarcerated, and those who are also infected with Hepatitis C. Viral sequencing has linked several cases with outbreaks in Kentucky and California.
In Kanawha and Putnam counties, more than 70 cases of acute Hepatitis A have been investigated by the health department. According to Briscoe, BPH is providing free Hepatitis A vaccine for outbreak counties, but local health departments can only use this vaccine for high-risk groups that include the homeless, drug users, and close personal contacts of people diagnosed with Hepatitis A.
The health department is expected to screen for insurance eligibility before using the state-supplied vaccine. KCHD has provided on-site vaccination clinics at local shelters and soup kitchens throughout the Kanawha Valley and is in the process of identifying locations in Putnam County that serve targeted high-risk populations. Groups serving the high-risk populations may contact the health department to schedule vaccination clinics.
Additional information can be found on the health department website www.kchdwv.org or by calling the health department at 304-348-1088.