Hepatitis A alerts issued for area

The Lord Fairfax Health District has issued alerts for possible hepatitis A risks for the region.

According to a Lord Fairfax Health District news release, a food handler at Brookside Restaurant in Luray has been diagnosed with hepatitis A. Residents who have eaten at this restaurant from July 28 through Aug. 5 and from Aug. 14 to Aug. 16 may have been exposed to hepatitis A.

Health officials aren’t aware of any other cases among restaurant goers and staff at this time.

In Winchester, the health department has also issued a warning for anyone who has consumed smoothies at Tropical Smoothie Café that contained strawberries. The Café was notified by the Virginia Department of Health about foodborne illnesses in the state linked to frozen strawberries from Egypt. The Winchester Tropical Smoothie Café had used strawberries from Egypt. Anyone who has had one of these smoothies within the last 50 days is encouraged to watch for symptoms of hepatitis A.

Hepatitis A is an inflammation of the liver caused by the hepatitis A virus.

Meredith Davis, Lord Fairfax Health District epidemiologist, said symptoms include tiredness, poor appetite, fever, nausea, jaundice, vomiting, abdominal pain, dark urine and light-colored stools.

“The disease is rarely fatal and most people recover in a few weeks without any complication,” she said. “Infants and young children tend to have very mild symptoms and are less likely to develop jaundice than are older children and adults.”

She added that not everyone who is infected will be symptomatic. Symptoms develop 15 to 50 days after exposure to the virus.

“The hepatitis A virus enters through the mouth, multiplies in the body, and is passed in the feces,” she said. “The virus can be carried on an infected person’s hands and be spread by direct contact, or by consuming food or drink that has been handled by the individual. In some cases, it can be spread by sexual contact or by consuming contaminated water or food.”

She added that the single most effective way to prevent the spread of the virus is careful hand washing after using the toilet, changing diapers or before eating or preparing food.

“Avoid eating raw shellfish taken from potentially contaminated waters. Also, infected people should not handle foods during the contagious period,” she added.

There is no special treatment for hepatitis A, she said.

“Since it’s a virus, antibiotics are not effective against it,” she said. “Most people recover fully with rest, adequate nutrition and fluids.”

Any individual who was exposed to hepatitis A and develops symptoms of illness should seek medical care and take steps to protect others from infection, she added.

The release added that people who have symptoms of hepatitis A should stay home from work, especially if they work in the food service industry.

“Between 2006-2015, there was an average of 49 cases of hepatitis A annually in Virginia. During the same 10-year period, the Lord Fairfax Health District, which covers Clarke, Frederick, Page, Shenandoah and Warren counties, and the City of Winchester, had an average of two hepatitis A cases per year,” she added.

The release added, “routine vaccination against hepatitis A has reduced the risk of this disease in the past decade. Vaccination is available to anyone, but specifically recommended for all children, for travelers to certain countries, and for people at high risk for infection with the virus.”

For information about the virus, visit the health department’s website at http://tiny.cc/h0j9dy.

Contact staff writer Kaley Toy at 540-465-5137 ext. 176, or ktoy@nvdaily.com