Florida’s steadily growing hepatitis A problem has reached the Miami-Dade restaurant industry, according to Friday’s Florida Department of Health announcement that a Miami restaurant worker has the disease.
The announcement hit email boxes around 9:15 p.m. Friday.
The department said the person worked at Primo’s Italian Kitchen & Bar, a restaurant inside the DoubleTree Grand Hotel Biscayne Bay, 1717 N. Bayshore Dr., at least between Jan. 26 and Feb. 7.
“The (hepatitis A virus) is present in an infected person’s stools and can be carried on an infected person’s hands, especially if no proper hand washing or hygiene practices are performed,” the department’s announcement explained. “Therefore, the disease can be spread when a person eats food or drinks beverages that have been handled by a person infected with HAV without healthy or proper hygiene practices.”
Handwash sink violations dotted Monday’s inspection of Primo’s by the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation.
There was no soap at the handwash sinks in the front food prep area and behind the bar. Neither sink was usable on the fly, anyway, because they were being used to store items, such as a large metal container. The soap dispenser at a back kitchen handwash sink didn’t work.
Primo’s passed a re-inspection Tuesday.
The Department of Health’s Miami-Dade office recommends those who ate or drank at Primo’s during the Jan. 26 through Feb. 7 period “seek medical assessment for vaccination against hepatitis A.”
If you’ve been vaccinated or already had hepatitis A, you don’t need to do anything. To get vaccinated, go to a doctor or call the DOH-Miami Dade at 305-470-5660. Post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP) works within two weeks of exposure, the department of health said.
Symptoms of this liver infection usually start within 28 days, but can take as long as 50 days to show themselves. Like other liver problems, it can lead to a yellowing of the eyes or skin from jaundice. Though most people shed the disease with time, a hospital stay might be necessary.
“Most adults with hepatitis A have symptoms, including fatigue, low appetite, stomach pain, nausea, and jaundice, that usually resolve within 2 months of infection,” the CDC says on its website. “Most children less than 6 years of age do not have symptoms or have an unrecognized infection.”
Hepatitis A, which infects the liver and hits adults and older children more often, has been creeping across the state, particularly the Central Florida region. Monthly case counts have increased since April 2018, according to the Florida Department of Health, reaching 189 cases in 26 counties in January.
That’s more than the full year totals of 2014 (106), 2015 (123) and 2016 (122) and on pace to rocket past 2017 (276) and 2018 (547).
Up in Sumter County, “DOH-Sumter has stepped up its hepatitis A vaccination efforts, mainly focusing on high risk individuals (i.e., the homeless, injection drug users, and incarcerated individuals),” said Daniel Chacreton, operations & management consultant manager, Department of Health-Sumter County. “We encourage anyone who feels they are at risk of hepatitis A infections to consult their primary care provider, practice good hand hygiene, and encourage those around them to do the same.”
Asked by The Herald about a group of recent cases, Chacreton acknowledged Sumter investigated a cluster of five people who got sick from hepatitis A in December. As to whether all had been patrons of the Glenview Champions Country Club restaurant, as sources had told The Herald, Chacreton said his department doesn’t release the names of establishments unless “there is a public benefit to doing so.”
Chacreton wrote, “They did have a restaurant as a common exposure (and) we did investigate the restaurant in question, but found no signs of ill employees so we have made no official recommendations to any establishment or employees of any establishment at this point. As I stated, in the previous email, to-date we have detected no signs of ongoing disease transmission. However, we are still investigating and monitoring this situation.”
Florida’s hepatitis A rates drew attention of Seattle-based food safety attorney Bill Marler, who devoted a blog post to it last Saturday.
Asked Friday night to compare Florida’s hepatitis A problem to elsewhere, Marler said, “Not as bad but getting worse. The hepatitis A problem has been sweeping the country in the homeless population and drug users. Now it is jumping into restaurant workers and now customers.”