By Steve Harrison, originally published by The Charlotte Observer
An estimated 4,000 people who ate at a Hardee’s restaurant on Little Rock Road in mid-June are at risk of contracting Hepatitis A, and should get a vaccination “as soon as possible,” Mecklenburg’s health director said Tuesday.
Mecklenburg Health Director Gibbie Harris said a recent five-person outbreak of hepatitis A includes an employee at the Hardee’s near the airport. People who ate at the restaurant — including carryout and drive-through — between June 13 and June 23 are at risk.
Harris said the county doesn’t believe the person contracted the virus at the restaurant but likely was infected elsewhere.
The county worked with the state and federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to identify the five new cases of hepatitis A since June 6. One of those people worked at the Hardee’s and had “limited contact” with food, Harris said..
Harris said the CDC has told the county that the vaccination must be given within 14 days of exposure to be effective. That means people who ate at the Hardee’s on June 13 need to be given a vaccination immediately.
The county is holding three vaccination clinics for residents.
There are clinics open 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. Wednesday and 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Thursday at the Northwest Health Department, 2845 Beatties Ford Road, and at the Southeast Health Department at 249 Billingsley Road.
There will be a vaccination clinic 3-8 p.m. Friday at the Hal Marshall Building, 700 N. Tryon St. There also will be a clinic open at the Hal Marshall Building 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday.
There have been 10 cases of hepatitis A, a liver disease, since April 20.
The CDC describes hepatitis A as a liver disease caused by the hepatitis A virus, and is usually transmitted through the “fecal-oral route” or eating or drinking contaminated food or water. Symptoms include fatigue, low appetite, stomach pain, nausea, and jaundice. Those symptoms usually clear two months after a person is infected, the CDC said.
The county said there are several high-risk factors associated with contracting hepatitis A.
▪ Family members, caregivers or people who have had sexual contact with someone who is infected with hepatitis A.
▪ Men who have sexual intercourse with other men.
▪ People who use recreational drugs.
▪ People who have traveled recently to countries where hepatitis A is prevalent.
▪ Homeless people who aren’t able to wash their hands frequently.
Harris said the county had six cases in all of 2017. This year, there were two cases before April 20, and 10 cases since then.
Harris said the employee is recovering, and handled food in a “limited way.” She said the employee’s last day at work was June 13. With that timeline, the county determined a 10-day window for people who are at risk.
Commissioners asked Harris whether the health department had the ability to close the restaurant. She said the county does not, and added that management appeared to be taking the issue seriously.
The county said it first learned about the employee’s condition Monday. Harris defended the county’s decision to wait until 3 p.m. Tuesday to announce to the public.
Harris said the county had to investigate how much contact the employee had with food before alerting the public.