A recent report that a food service worker at Social Kitchen in Birmingham unknowingly had Hepatitis A while still at work has resulted in a flood of questions to the office. Here are some answers.
Hep A is a virus that is spread from person to person by contact with their stool or saliva. That’s one of the reasons why hand washing after going to the bathroom is so important. Sometimes Hep A is contracted by eating contaminated food that hasn’t been cleaned properly because the virus from somebody’s stool or saliva is still lingering (this is how strawberries or bean sprout outbreaks have occurred in the past).
Hep A has never been found in breast milk so even if you are infected that is not the way you will spread the illness to your baby. Inadequate handwashing or exchange of saliva are your risks.
All children are eligible to receive Hep A vaccine at 12-23 months of age and a second dose is given 6 months later. Our office has chosen to slot it in at 15 months with the second dose at the 2 year visit. If your child has been receiving all of his or her vaccines on schedule and is at or above this age they have had the Hep A vaccine. After the 2 shot series there is a greater than 95% chance that your child would not get Hep A if exposed. If your child is 12-15 months or you have elected not have your child vaccinated against Hep A and ate at Social Kitchen from July 26 – August 6th it makes sense to call and make a vaccine only appointment to get started.
Hep A has a 15-50 day incubation period so there is time for vaccination to take effect. Signs of Hep A are those of a terrible stomach bug for most children with abdominal pain, vomiting, diarrhea, and then yellowing of the skin and eyes (jaundice), and darkening of the urine (tea colored).
If your child was at Social Kitchen during the exposure time and is exhibiting symptoms, they need to be seen. There is no treatment for Hep A other than supportive care like IV fluids but limiting spread to others by making the diagnosis early is important. Very rarely Hep A can result in severe liver damage.