A recent confirmed case of hepatitis A at Buffalo Wild Wings drew more than 250 people to the Knox County Health Department on Friday to get vaccinations as part of a free clinic to prevent a potential public health crisis.
County health officials this week recommended that anyone who dined at the restaurant at 2407 N. Sixth St. on either June 30 or July 1 to get vaccinated after an employee, a Lawrenceville, Illinois resident, was admitted to Good Samaritan Hospital on Monday having tested positive for the virus.
The restaurant was immediately closed so county health officials could disinfect the facility and interview employees. The Indiana Department of Health then overnighted 600 doses of the hepatitis A vaccine on Wednesday in preparation for the free clinic.
County health officer Dr. Alan Stewart said by the end of the day, 260 people had received the vaccine.
“I didn't know what to predict,” Stewart said, “but it went well, very well. We had excellent support from the state, had a steady stream of people, all of them nice. We had nothing in the way of a big crowd or even large gaps.
“It went very smoothly.”
Stewart, too, said a hotline set up specifically to handle the response to this single case of hepatitis A received several calls, mostly from people with questions on whether or not they needed the vaccine.
There was confusion, Stewart said, as to why only those who dined at Buffalo Wild Wings on June 30 or July 1 needed it.
The employee worked and was symptomatic on June 30; she did not work on July 1, but since she may have been involved in the preparation of food served that day, it was included in the response.
“She had worked there before,” Stewart said, “but she was not symptomatic, and according to the experts, not contagious at (any other time).
“The risk is actually quite low,” he said, “but anyone with questions, or if you're uncomfortable at all, should just go ahead and come to talk to us.”
County health officials, too, have praised the management at Buffalo Wild Wings for its swift, cooperative response to the case of hepatitis A. They were quick to adhere to the county's directions, Stewart said, and mandated that all employees — if they hadn't already —receive the vaccine before returning to work.
If they refuse, they aren't allowed to return to their jobs for 50 days, which is the longest possible incubation period for hepatitis A, according to county sanitarian Madeline Moon.
“There is no blame on their part,” Stewart said of Buffalo Wild Wings.
The county health department has plenty of vaccines left, so anyone who wasn't able to attend the clinic needs only to contact it at 812-882-8080 to make arrangements to get one.
Moon said upon their inspection of the facility this week, they found no fewer than 400 credit card receipts from those two days.
“We have plenty of vaccine,” Stewart urged. “So if you've thought about it, and now you want to get it, call to make an appointment or just walk-in.”
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.
Vaccines can be given as often as every 10 years, and if you're unsure whether or not you've had one, it doesn't hurt to get another, Stewart said.
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.