An outbreak of Hepatitis A linked to a 7-Eleven convenience store in the Salt Lake City area could have affected an estimated 2,000 people, Salt Lake County health officials said.
The Salt Lake County Health Department believes the hepatitis A outbreak stems from a wider outbreak of the disease sickening people since August.
“The possible hepatitis A exposure occurred when an infected employee worked while ill and potentially handled certain items in the store,” county health officials said on Sunday.
The current outbreak centers on the 7-Eleven store at 2666 West 7800 South in the city of West Jordan, just west of Salt Lake City.
The SLCHD urges customers who used the restroom at the store or consumed certain items between Dec. 26 and Jan. 3, such as a fountain drink, fresh fruit, or food from the hot food case, to contact the health department for information about receiving an injection to prevent hepatitis A from developing. No other 7-Eleven stores in the area are affected by the outbreak.
According to Fox 13 News, as on Monday afternoon, Jan. 8, the SLCHD had screened and vaccinated 256 people that had likely been exposed to the virus in the 7-Eleven.
Hepatitis A outbreaks are notoriously difficult to contain because the virus is extremely resilient; hepatitis can survive the body’s highly acidic digestive tract and it can live outside the body for months, even in freezing temperatures. It is also highly contagious. One infected person can infect dozens of others.
Individuals with hepatitis A are infectious for two weeks prior to the onset of symptoms, which include jaundice (yellowing of the skin), fever, fatigue, loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, and dark urine. Symptoms usually appear within 15 to 50 days after exposure and usually last less than two months.
Some people, however, can remain sick for as long as six months. Young children, the elderly, and anyone with frail or vulnerable immune systems are especially prone to develop liver toxicity, which can lead to liver failure and death.
“This is an important reminder to food service establishments that they should consider vaccinating their food-handling employees against hepatitis A,” said Gary Edwards, SLCHD executive director. “It’s also important that food handlers be conscientious with hygiene, hand washing and not working when ill—and that managers be vigilant in enforcing those important requirements that help protect public health.”