Health study finds no current risk to public of ongoing infection
By KRISTI L. NELSON, email@example.com
April 26, 2005
No single event, restaurant or other place was the source of a hepatitis A outbreak that has infected 18 people so far, the East Tennessee Regional Health Department announced Monday.
That was the result of a study conducted by local, regional and state health department staff over the weekend to try to determine the source of the Campbell County outbreak.
“More importantly, our work this weekend also did not identify any current risk to the public in terms of an ongoing source of hepatitis A,” said Dr. Paul Erwin, regional director of ETRHO.
The health department has confirmed 13 cases in Campbell County, four in Scott County and one in Anderson County. The Anderson case, in a food handler at Clinton’s Waffle House, prompted the health department to set up a mass clinic last week, offering protective serum to those who ate at the restaurant during the time the infected server was working.
Erwin said the study was done because, as of last week, the health department had still not connected all the cases to a single common exposure.
“We wanted to make sure we had made every effort possible to identify the source, as well as to prevent any new outbreaks,” he said.
Health department staff conducted 98 detailed interviews, including all current cases, food service employees and randomly chosen people who were not sick. Each person was asked about travel; group functions at which food was served; schools; day cares; health-care exposures; sharing of food and drinks; drug use; and patterns of socializing, shopping and eating out – all clues to hepatitis exposure.
Erwin emphasized that good hygiene, above all else, can prevent the spread of hepatitis A, which inflames the liver. He recommended “thorough hand-washing after using the bathroom, before preparing food and before eating and not sharing smokes or eating after one another.”
The results of the study were of some consolation to LaFollette City Administrator David Young, who said all Campbell County restaurants fell under public suspicion during the hepatitis A scare.
“You could just drive around during the lunch hour and tell (business) wasn’t what it used to be,” Young said.
Though Young said he was “very relieved and very happy” no restaurant was found to be the source, he also said “the damage is done” to the local economy.
Short-term, the loss of revenue to restaurants caused some restaurant workers to get fewer hours and therefore less pay, he said. Long-term, it has affected city and county sales tax revenue. Young said it will be three or four months before the extent of that loss will be clear.
“I’m sure it will be in the thousands of dollars,” he said.
Now Young is hoping people will trust the health department’s investigators and, as a result, go out to eat.
“This is probably the safest time you could eat in Campbell County,” he said, laughing.
Kristi L. Nelson may be reached at 865-342-6434. She is health writer for the News Sentinel.