Hep A found in 2 Denny’s workers, vaccinations advised

The Florida Department of Health in Osceola County is urging people who recently ate or drank at a local restaurant to get the hepatitis A vaccine.

The recommendation came Wednesday after health department officials identified two cases of hep A among workers at the Denny’s located at 2501 E. U.S. Highway 192 in Kissimmee.

According to the Health Department, the hep A vaccine may provide protection against the disease if given within two weeks after exposure. It is recommended for anyone who ate or drank at the restaurant between Oct. 24 and Nov. 1.

People who consumed food or drink there between Oct. 14 and Oct. 23 are advised to look out for signs and symptoms of a hep A infection. This includes sudden onset of abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, dark urine, fever, diarrhea, pale white stools or yellow skin and eyes (jaundice).

Anyone experiencing these symptoms is advised to immediately seek medical attention.

People who already have received the hep A vaccine or have had a past history of hep A infection are considered immune to the virus and do not need to take additional action, according to the health department.

Family physicians can administer the vaccine, which is also available at chain store pharmacies such as CVS, Walgreens, Publix and Winn Dixie. Those without health insurance can get free or reduced-cost vaccinations at the local health department at 1875 Fortune Road in Kissimmee.

The health department advises the following populations to seek the vaccination.

• All children at the age of 12 months.

• People who are experiencing homelessness.

• Users of recreational drugs, whether injected or not.

• Men who have sexual encounters with other men.

• People with direct contact with others who have hep A.

• Travelers to countries where hep A is common.

• People with chronic /long-term liver disease, including hep B or hep C.

• People with clotting-factor disorders.

• Family and caregivers of adoptees from countries where hep A is common.

Those with specific questions about exposure to hepatitis A at Denny’s can call 407-343-2155 to reach the health department’s epidemiology staff.

The department also is encouraging all healthcare providers, including hospital emergency rooms, to be on high alert and immediately report cases of hep A to the department, as well as identify those who would benefit from vaccination.

Those who live outside of Osceola County should contact their county’s health department for hep A vaccinations.

The Florida Surgeon General in August declared a “public health emergency” regarding hep A and directed all state-run local health departments to step up measures to prevent the disease from spreading, particularly among people who are homeless and people who use drugs – the two populations most vulnerable to the disease.

At that time, the health department also had implemented a High-Risk Group Targeted Vaccination Plan for other high-risk populations, including people in county jails and people at in-patient and out-patient drug rehabilitation centers.

The risk of contracting hep A dropped dramatically after a vaccine was developed in 1995. However, the shots typically are recommended for babies, not adults, which leaves adults more susceptible to the disease.

There is no cure or specific treatment for hep A, which causes flu like symptoms including nausea, fatigue and joint pain. The body clears the hep A virus on its own, although liver failure and death occur in rare cases, especially in older people and those with other liver diseases. Doctors advise rest, nutrition and fluids as it runs its course. Health experts have said outbreaks will stop when vulnerable populations have been effectively vaccinated.

The disease can be prevented through washing your hands with soap and warm, running water for at least 20 seconds after using the bathroom, touching people or public surfaces, changing a diaper, coughing, sneezing, using tobacco, eating or drinking. Alcohol-based hand sanitizers do not kill hep A germs.