Growing concerns about hepatitis A outbreak
ATLANTA (FOX 5 Atlanta) - FOX 5 News has learned more details about Georgia's Hepatitis Outbreak.
Since June 2018, more than 460 cases have been reported in the state, compared to only 24 infections in 2017.
The latest case reported was in Gwinnett County where a restaurant employee was recently diagnosed with the virus. This comes less than a month after another restaurant employee was diagnosed in Cartersville.
This week, members of the Georgia's Public Health Board were briefed during their monthly meeting about the alarming increase of Hepatitis A cases in Georgia.
"We've been promoting this message that we can't let up, we can't think we are doing OK," said Cherie Drenzek, State Epidemiologist and Chief Science Officer
Health experts said most of the 468 cases that have been reported since June 2018 were related to illicit drug use or came in contact with a person who had it, like a food handler.
Gwinnett County Health Officials are concerned a Wendy's employee may have been able to spread the virus to others between June 13 and June 29.
They are asking anyone who ate the restaurant on Scenic Highway during that time period to monitor their health symptoms and to get a hepatitis A vaccination.
FOX 5 News obtained a copy of the restaurants latest health inspection which was conducted on June 18, which was during the time period when the alleged sick employee was working. The restaurant scored a 91, losing points for dishes that had not been cleaned properly and fruit flies.
Even though employee health and hygiene is part of the state's formal inspection process, Gwinnett County Health officials told FOX 5 News inspectors don't specifically test employees for the virus. So, there is no way to know during a restaurant health inspection whether an employee is sick.
However, the restaurant was inspected again after the health department found out about the sick employee.
Health officials told FOX 5 News, "no issues were observed in the facility. Employees were using gloves appropriately, there was no cross contamination issues and everyone was washing their hands appropriately."
Restaurant-goers like Kosha Watson are now thinking twice about going out to eat.
"It makes me not want to eat fast food period," said Watson.
"It's discouraging," said John Ewu.
During the state's monthly public health meeting, experts said Georgia's outbreak is in a dangerous place when compared to the data in other states.
"Once the outbreak hits 400, cases explode to the thousands," said Drenzek.
The hepatitis A vaccination is not one that is typically required for everyone but many area health departments are now offering the shot for free.
It's usually highly recommended for international travelers to protect themselves while eating out but some are now wondering if they now need that protection here in the U.S.
"I have to be more careful because it could be me," said Ewu.
"I don't want to have to use caution when I'm ordering fast food, especially when I'm giving it to my children too," said Watson.
For more information about hepatitis A and how to get vaccinated: https://dph.georgia.gov/hepatitis