There are widespread person-to-person outbreaks of Hepatitis A across the US, and it is now being reported that a flight attendant may have exposed passengers to the viral disease on several recent flights.
On October 1, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) was notified that a male flight attendant had a confirmed Acute Hepatitis A (HAV) infection.
Here’s what you need to know about Hepatitis A, how it is transmitted, and how to avoid infection.
People on several flights in September may have been exposed.
One of those exposures took place on a flight between San Francisco and Charlotte on September 21, North Carolina-based Mecklenburg County Public Health Department confirmed to ABC News:
The health department contacted 18 local passengers, all of whom received Hepatitis A vaccinations.
American Airlines would not confirm to ABC News that one of its flight attendants had contracted Hepatitis A or another disease. The airline said in a statement that it’s in close contact with the CDC and “will coordinate with them on any required health and safety-related measures.”
The CDC said in a statement that because the flight attendant had diarrhea on several flights during the period in which he was considered infectious, the agency is investigating and notifying passengers who may have been affected. (source)
American Airlines is reportedly notifying crew members from other flights who traveled with the flight attendant during the infectious period.
It is yet to be determined if that flight attendant infected any passengers or other crew members.
Restaurant workers can also spread the virus.
While the CDC says that transmission of Hepatitis A from food handlers to customers is extremely rare, it DOES occur and is something to be mindful of. Infected people who do not wash their hands well after using the restroom and then handle food can infect the food – and the consumers of that food.
In recent weeks, employees at several restaurants across the US have tested positive for Hepatitis A:
- SC Waffle House may have exposed customers to hepatitis A, health officials say
- Hepatitis A confirmed in Erie County restaurant employee
- After fourth Hepatitis A exposure at Peninsula restaurant, health dept. discusses concerns
- Restaurant worker with Hepatitis A spurs warning from Cobb health department
- Derby Lane restaurant worker tests positive for hepatitis A
- Turning Stone casino reps dealing with hepatitis A as county health authorities stay quiet
It might seem like eating in restaurants could be pretty risky, but as long as employees follow proper hygiene standards and the establishment follows local health regulations, the risk is quite low. Most restaurants train their employees to wash their hands after using the restroom, and many require staff to wear disposable gloves while handling food.
There are active Hepatitis A outbreaks in 28 states.
The CDC has been tracking Hepatitis A outbreaks in the US since 2016.
As of October 4, 2019, 30 states have publicly reported the following:
- Cases: 26,789
- Hospitalizations: 16,157 (60%)
- Deaths: 274
Hepatitis A can infect anyone, but some groups are at higher risk, according to the CDC:
- People with direct contact with someone who has hepatitis A
- Travelers to countries where hepatitis A is common
- Men who have sexual contact with men
- People who use drugs, both injection and non-injection drugs
- Household members or caregivers of a recent adoptee from countries where hepatitis A is common
- People with clotting factor disorders, such as hemophilia
- People working with nonhuman primates
- People experiencing unstable housing or homelessness
- People who are currently or were recently incarcerated
- People with chronic liver disease, including cirrhosis, hepatitis B, or hepatitis C
What is Hepatitis A?
Hepatitis means inflammation of the liver. When the liver is inflamed or damaged, its function can be affected. Various things, including heavy alcohol use, toxins, some medications, and certain medical conditions, can cause hepatitis, but it is often caused by a virus. The most common hepatitis viruses in the US are hepatitis A virus, hepatitis B virus, and hepatitis C virus.
Hepatitis A is highly contagious and can range from a mild illness lasting a few weeks to a severe illness lasting several months. In rare cases, Hepatitis A may become chronic, causing relapsing infection. This can lead to more serious outcomes, including liver failure and death.
It usually spreads when a person unknowingly ingests the virus from objects, food, or drinks contaminated by small, undetected amounts of stool from an infected person, the CDC explains:
Contamination of food (this can include frozen and undercooked food) by hepatitis A can happen at any point: growing, harvesting, processing, handling, and even after cooking. Contamination of food or water is more likely to occur in countries where hepatitis A is common and in areas where there are poor sanitary conditions or poor personal hygiene. In the United States, chlorination of water kills hepatitis A virus that enters the water supply. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) routinely monitors natural bodies of water used for recreation for fecal contamination so there is no need for monitoring for hepatitis A virus specifically. (source)
Hepatitis A can also spread from close personal contact with an infected person such as through sex or caring for someone who is ill.
In fact, in the United States, hepatitis A is more commonly spread from person to person than through contaminated food or water.
While foodborne illnesses caused by hepatitis A are not common in the US, water, shellfish, frozen vegetables and fruit (berries), and salads are most frequently cited as potential foodborne sources.
What are the symptoms of Hepatitis A infection?
Symptoms typically appear about four weeks after exposure, but can occur as early as 2 and as late as 7 weeks after exposure. Symptoms usually develop over a period of several days and can last anywhere from 2 to 6 months.
Some people do not develop symptoms despite being infected. Most children under the age of 6 do not have symptoms, but older children and adults usually do.
If symptoms develop, they can appear abruptly and can include:
- Loss of appetite
- Abdominal pain
- Dark urine
- Clay-colored stools
- Joint pain
- Jaundice (yellowing of the skin and eyes – typically not present in young children)
It is important to understand that a person who is infected but does not have symptoms can still spread the virus to others. And, a person can transmit the virus to others up to 2 weeks before symptoms appear.
Hepatitis A is diagnosed by evaluating symptoms and a blood test. Healthcare providers may recommend the hepatitis A vaccine to unvaccinated people who have been recently exposed recently (within 2 weeks) to the virus, or a shot of immune globulin to prevent severe illness.
Rest, hydration, and good nutrition are also typically recommended. Most of the time, the illness resolves on its own, but some people do end up hospitalized.
Here’s how to avoid infection with Hepatitis A.
To prevent hepatitis A contamination or transmission, always practice safe food handling and preparation measures by following these guidelines from the FDA:
- Wash hands with warm water and soap for at least 20 seconds before and after handling raw foods.
- Thoroughly wash hands after using the bathroom and changing diapers for protection against hepatitis A, as well as other foodborne diseases.
- Wash the inside walls and shelves of the refrigerator, cutting boards and countertops, and utensils that may have contacted contaminated foods; then sanitize them with a solution of one tablespoon of chlorine bleach to one gallon of hot water; dry with a clean cloth or paper towel that has not been previously used.
- Wash hands with warm water and soap following the cleaning and sanitation process.
- Consumers can also submit a voluntarily report, a complaint or adverse event (illness or serious allergic reaction) related to a food product.
What do you think?
Have you heard of any cases of Hepatitis A in your area? Does the rise in communicable diseases like this worry you? Please share your thoughts in the comments.
About the Author
Dagny Taggart is the pseudonym of an experienced journalist who needs to maintain anonymity to keep her job in the public eye. Dagny is non-partisan and aims to expose the half-truths, misrepresentations, and blatant lies of the MSM.