Health officials: Low chance food handler transmitted Hepatitis A to customers

Health officials: Low chance food handler transmitted Hepatitis A to customers

MONTGOMERY, AL (WSFA) - The Alabama Department of Public Health is responding after Friday’s announcement they are investigating a case of Hepatitis A at a Montgomery restaurant.

Hepatitis A is a viral infection that can be transmitted person-to-person and by eating food or drinks prepared by an infected person. State officials said they're investigating a confirmed case of the infection in a food handler at the Panera Bread location on Carter Hill Road. They said this is a "single event," meaning there's only one case being investigated at this time.

Anyone who has eaten food prepared at this Panera Bread location between Jan. 26 to Feb. 5 should contact their health care provider or the Montgomery County Health Department, ADPH said. A vaccine can prevent an infection but only if given within 14 days of exposure.

Some customers may need the hepatitis A vaccine or immune globulin to reduce their chance of illness.

“Adults with hepatitis A may have symptoms that include fatigue, low appetite, stomach pain, nausea, and jaundice. These symptoms usually resolve within two months of infection,” said ADPH Medical Officer for Disease Control and Prevention Dr. Burnestine Taylor. “Children less than 6 years of age generally do not have symptoms or have an unrecognized infection. Almost all people who get hepatitis A recover completely.”

State officials said based on multiple investigations across the country transmitting this illness from a food handler to a patron is very low.

"I think if we look at the risk with Hepatitis A being transmitted from one person to the next, the most likely persons to be infected are persons who either live in the household with the person who has Hepatitis A or who otherwise have very close contact with them," said Karen Landers, ADPH District Medical Officer.

WSFA 12 News also reached out to Panera Bread, which released this statement:

“The health and safety of guests and associates is our top priority. We follow strict food safety policies and procedures. Out of an abundance of caution, we proactively closed the cafe early to undergo a deep cleaning upon learning of the illness. We are offering vaccinations for all associates in this cafe and are working closely with the Health Department to take all recommended steps. We encourage guests with questions to contact us at 1-855-3-PANERA.”

Officials said they’ve also offered vaccinations for all associates in this cafe. There is no state requirement for food handlers to be vaccinated or disclose any illness. ADPH said they cannot speak for Panera Bread or any other restaurant for anything they may ask their employees to do.

However, ADPH does require that restaurants follow strictly their environmental divisions food safety rules for food handling – including how to properly wash their hands.

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