Food & Drinks

Punlisher’s Platform: Why didn’t health department report deadly hepatitis A outbreak earlier?

– OPINION –

Unanswered questions:

  • If the exposure at the restaurant occurred at the end of November 2021, why was the public not alerted until January 2022?
  • For those that became sick, was there a common day or days that they ate at the restaurant?
  • For those that became sick, was there a common food item consumed at the restaurant? – hepatitis A outbreaks have been liked to a variety of food items – including green onions, berries, seafood and frozen berries.
  • Are all workers who worked during the exposure period accounted for and did any of them become sick in the week after the exposure period? – hepatitis A outbreak have been linked to ill food service workers in the very recent past – Mendham NJ Golf and Country Club and Roanoke VA Famous Anthony’s Restaurant.

NBC10 Philadelphia reports that health officials confirmed a third death in a Hepatitis A outbreak in Montgomery County linked to Gino’s Ristorante & Pizzeria in West Norriton. They have also allowed the restaurant that was closed in connection to the outbreak to reopen.

The Montgomery County Office of Public Health (MCOPH) first announced there was an outbreak on January 5. On Thursday they revealed there have been ten confirmed cases of the virus in the county with three of them fatal. The seven survivors were hospitalized but later released.

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Officials also say they are investigating three other possible cases in the outbreak.

Through interviews, health officials confirmed the initial exposure occurred in late November but is no longer a risk to the public.

After conducting a reopening inspection on Thursday, the MCOPH’s Division of Environmental Field Services also lifted the closure of Gino’s Ristorante & Pizzeria in West Norriton.

The restaurant had been closed since January 7 in relation to the outbreak. The business has denied involvement in the outbreak and claimed they were the victims of false rumors.

Health officials said they inspected the kitchen, dining room, wait stations, restrooms and all food and non-food contact surfaces inside the restaurant while emphasizing the requirement of proper and thorough hand washing and glove/utensil use while handling foods. The owner of the restaurant also told health officials that all potential food sources on the premises were disposed of prior to reopening.

“The restaurant owner provided a list of restaurant employees working during the exposure period who are expected to return to the restaurant following re-opening,” an MCPOH spokesperson wrote. “All employees on the list completed voluntary testing for Hepatitis A and were offered Hepatitis A vaccination.”

A source told NBC10 all of the workers at Gino’s have been tested and vaccinated against Hepatitis A and so far there have not been any positive tests among the employees.

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Hepatitis A is a liver infection caused by the hepatitis A virus (HAV) which is found in the stool and blood of people who are infected, according to the CDC. It is also highly contagious.

“It is a fecal or oral route. And that means there’s a small amount of feces or poop on a substance that is ingested and that’s how you get Hepatitis A,” Dr. Darren Mareiniss of Einstein Health told NBC10.

Symptoms of Hepatitis A can last up to two months and include fatigue, nausea, stomach pain and jaundice though most people with the virus don’t have long-lasting illness, according to the CDC. Vaccination is the best way to prevent the virus.

“The majority of the Hep A patients don’t progress to fulminant disease,” Dr. Mareiniss said. “That means they don’t progress to liver failure. It’s less than one percent we believe. So a lot of people have milder symptoms and they’re self-limiting. It goes away.”

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