County health officials looking to thwart possible outbreak

Patrons at Buffalo Wild Wings, 2407 N. Sixth St., on either June 30 and July 1 are encouraged to seek a vaccination for hepatitis A after local health officials learned an employee of the restaurant working those days tested positive for the virus.

Dr. Alan Stewart, the county's health officer, reported to members of the county health board Wednesday that an employee, an Illinois resident, was ill while working and preparing food at the restaurant.

While it is relatively rare for restaurant patrons to become infected with the hepatitis A virus from an infected food handler, Stewart is still encouraging anyone who consumed food or drink at Buffalo Wild Wings during those two days to receive a hepatitis A vaccination.

It's most effective, he added, if received within 14 days of exposure, which would be Saturday or Sunday.

County health officials have planned a free vaccination clinic from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. Friday at the Knox County Health Department and Immunization Clinic, 305 S. Fifth St., for anyone who thinks they may have been exposed.

“(The state Department of Health) has overnighted us some extra vaccine,” Stewart said. “But this is only for those who were at the restaurant on June 30 or July 1 and the employees.

“Vaccinations are available any time to anyone, but if you weren’t exposed at (Buffalo Wild Wings on either of those days) then we’ll have to turn you away, although we would welcome you back another time.”

A separate clinic, Stewart said, is being planned in Lawrenceville, Illinois, by health officials there.

County health officials said they were made aware of the situation late Monday afternoon when the employee was admitted to Good Samaritan Hospital with symptoms.

They converged on the restaurant within 90 minutes, according to sanitarian Madeline Moon, immediately closed it to patrons and oversaw a “thorough disinfection” as well as interviews of all the employees.

It was allowed to reopen on Tuesday, and managers there continue to cooperate with county health officials.

Moon said the health department, too, has been contacted this week by several restauranteurs interested in having their own employees vaccinated against the virus as a precaution.

“I think that’s good thing, that they want to take preventative measures like that,” Moon said.

Those who have received the hepatitis A vaccination within the last 10 years do not need to be revaccinated, Stewart said, although getting a second one won’t prove harmful.

And anyone who believes they may have been exposed but can't attend the free clinic Friday, Stewart said, should immediately contact their primary care physician.

Anyone exposed, too, should monitor their health for symptoms of hepatitis A up to 50 days after exposure.

Hepatitis A is a viral infection of the liver that can cause loss of appetite, nausea, tiredness, fever, stomach pain, brown colored urine, and light-colored stools. Yellowing of the skin or eyes may also appear.

Since it’s transmitted through fecal matter, the best way to prevent exposure is by vigorous and frequent hand washing.

A hotline has been established to answer questions and can be reached at 812-885-8413.

The Center for Disease Control has been battling outbreaks of hepatitis A across the country since 2016.

Indiana is one of several states experiencing an outbreak; state health officials have reported nearly 1,700 reported cases here since November of 2017.

Knox County has reported five cases, although this is the first case involving a local eating establishment, therefore constituting a public risk.

Other counties, like Wayne and Marion counties, have seen more than 150 cases.

Kentucky has seen the most cases, reporting nearly 4,000 since August of 2017.

Indiana law has required a hepatitis A vaccine for school admission since 2014.

Groups considered to be at especially high risk include intravenous drug users, the homeless, the incarcerated and gay men.

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