By Jeremy Z. Young
The East Tennessee Regional Health Office (ETRHO) announced Tuesday that the investigation into the recent Hepatitis A outbreak in Campbell County has identified a current case of Hepatitis A in an employee of the Waffle House in Clinton. However, the Clinton based case may be a “result of, not the cause of” the recent outbreak, according to health officials.
As of Tuesday, there were there were a total of 17 confirmed cases of Hepatitis A in East Tennessee. Of those, thirteen cases reside in Campbell County”mostly LaFollette”, one in Anderson County and another three confirmed cases in Scott County.
Health officials are concerned about those who may have eaten at the Waffle House in Clinton between April 5 and April 15. They are not ruling out that there may be an originating source in Campbell County. The Waffle House, located at 2255 N. Charles Seviers Blvd., isn’t the only possible source for the virus.
Collis Foods, Inc. of Chattanooga, the company that operates the Waffle House located in Clinton, was contacted Tuesday by the Volunteer Times. They said they have no comment at this time, but would provide a statement at a later date.
Dr. Paul Erwin, Regional Director at the ETRHO, said in a press conference Tuesday, “We have good epidemiologic evidence linking the majority of cases of Hepatitis A in Campbell County to having eaten at a specific restaurant in LaFollette in March. However, no employee at that restaurant has yet tested positive. This single, current case of Hepatitis A in an employee at the Waffle House/Clinton appears to be the result of, not the cause of the Hepatitis A outbreak in Campbell County.”
Erwin told the Volunteer Times that the first case of Hepatitis A was discovered on April 8th.
St. Mary’s of Campbell County Infection Control Nurse, Tammy Wilson, told the Volunteer Times that the symptoms of Hepatitis A include jaundice (yellow skin or eyes), fatigue, abdominal pain, loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, dark urine, diarrhea and fever. About 15% of all people infected with Hepatitis A will have prolonged or relapsing symptoms over a 6-9 month period. Hepatitis A is usually spread from person to person by putting something in the mouth (even though it may look clean) that has been contaminated with the stool of a person with the virus.
According to the ETRHO, the early signs and symptoms of Hepatitis A appear 2 — 6 weeks after exposure. Hepatitis A varies in severity, with mild cases lasting two weeks or less, and more severe cases lasting 4 — 6 weeks or longer. However, even mildly ill people can be highly infectious. Those with illness suggestive of hepatitis should consult a physician even if symptoms are mild. Those infected, or believed to be infected, should not prepare or handle food for anyone until their physician clears them.
Public Health Officials have determined that people who have recently eaten at the Waffle House in Clinton may be at risk for developing Hepatitis A. The highest risk will be for persons who have eaten uncooked foods (salads, garnishes, toppings) or had iced drinks.
Immune serum Globulin (ISG) provides protection against infection with Hepatitis A only if given within 14 days of exposure. Persons who ate at the Waffle House/Clinton should receive an injection of immune serum globulin if their exposure occurred between April 5 and April 15th. This timeframe covers the period when the employee at Waffle House worked within the past 14 days.
Those who may have been exposed at the Waffle house/Clinton between April 5th and April 15th may receive the injection of ISG at a special clinic being set up by the Anderson County Health Department — this clinic will be at the Tennessee National Guard Armory Building, JD Yarnell Parkway, in Clinton. The clinic will be open to those meeting the criteria for needing ISG at certain times.
Those who ate at the Waffle House/Clinton between April 5th — 8th should receive ISG on April 19th or 20th. Customers of the establishment on April 9th — 10th should go to the clinic on April 20th. Customers between April 11th –20th are urged to attend the clinic on April 21st.
Full clinic times will be Tuesday, April 19 from 1PM — 8PM, Wednesday and Thursday, April 20 and 21, the clinic will be open at the Armory in Clinton from 8AM — 8PM.
Dr. Paul Erwin stated that the number one concern in providing this public notification was to protect the health of the public and prevent further cases of Hepatitis A.
“It usually takes around 30 days between the time that a person gets infected with Hepatitis A and when they become sick,” said Erwin. “So, it is possible that this Waffle House employee became infected after eating in Campbell County in early-mid March. We do not believe there has been any exposure at any restaurant in Campbell County within the past 14 days, and no one currently working as a restaurant employee in Campbell County is known to have Hepatitis A.”
Erwin said the investigation is continuing in Campbell County, but hopes to move forward with ISG shots for those who may have been exposed at the Waffle House/Clinton.
As a preventative measure, people are strongly urged to be particularly thorough in hand washing after toileting or changing diapers and prior to food preparation to avoid any potential for spread of the virus. Hand washing should include vigorous soaping of the hands, and all surfaces of the hands should be washed regularly.
For more information, people who have questions about Hepatitis A may contact the ETRHO at 549-5307 (local) or 1-866-6710 (free long distance).