Article published Saturday, February, 2009

Hepatitis A virus infects food worker

Central Catholic students advised to get immunized


Source of Article:

The Toledo-Lucas County Health Department Friday advised students at Toledo's Central Catholic High School to be vaccinated for Hepatitis A, because a food service worker has contracted the virus.

"We think the risk is low, but we think it's real," said Dr. David Grossman, Toledo-Lucas County health commissioner. "Chances are less you will get sick than win the lottery."

Still, the health department encourages students who ate food prepared in the school's cafeteria between Jan. 6 and Jan. 30, and who have not already been vaccinated, to see a doctor and get the immunization.

Dr. Grossman said a female worker employed by AVI Foodsystems Inc., which operates the cafeteria, was diagnosed with Hepatitis A.

She last worked at Central Catholic on Jan. 30, and the case was reported to the health department late Thursday.

"This person had excellent hygiene and very little contact with the food," Dr. Grossman said.

Hepatitis A is spread from person to person by the fecal to oral route. It is most commonly spread within a household or by changing diapers.

Once infected, a person is capable of passing the virus for about two weeks before becoming ill through 10 days after the onset of symptoms.

Food service workers have transmitted the virus, but proper hand washing and the use of gloves significantly reduces the risk, Dr. Grossman said.

He said casual contact in the school would not spread the virus. The school's enrollment is 1,230 students, according to its Web site.

The risk of acquiring Hepatitis A is greatly reduced for students who already have been vaccinated with the vaccine, completed the series, or previously had Hepatitis A. The vaccination should be given on or before next Friday to be most effective.

Sally Oberski, director of communications for the Toledo Catholic Diocese, said school officials wanted to be proactive.

"Obviously, they are concerned because it's a medical matter that affects their students and faculty," Ms. Oberski said. "They addressed the problem immediately when it was discovered and worked with the health department and the company that services the cafeteria."

Hepatitis A is the least serious of the hepatitis strains. It causes intermittent nausea, yellow skin, fatigue, loss of appetite, and abdominal pain. It results in about 100 deaths yearly in the United States, according to federal figures. Treatment involves rest and a healthful diet.

By contrast, Hepatitis B and C result from contact with infected blood. They both cause thousands of chronic liver disease deaths each year in the United States, according to federal statistics.

In 2003, nearly 600 people were sickened by hepatitis and three died in the nation's largest outbreak. The cause was blamed on contaminated green onions served at a Mexican restaurant in the Beaver Valley Mall in suburban Pittsburgh.

In 1998, an outbreak of Hepatitis A in Toledo that lasted from November to mid-December sickened 35 people, according to the health department.

In January, 1999, health department officials said they were not able to pinpoint the source but determined that 10 of the first 19 people to contract the disease lived within a two-mile radius of Monroe Street and Secor Road. A report released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta said most of the cases were associated with an unnamed Toledo restaurant.



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