How to handle a health crisis Hepatitis A threat: Carroll officials, public respond without panic to emergency ' inoculations.

September 28, 1998

PROMPT, sensible reaction to the threat of contagious hepatitis at an Eldersburg fast-food restaurant has calmed public fears and apparently averted a public health crisis.

About 2,000 persons lined up at Springfield Hospital Center Thursday and Friday for free shots against the hepatitis A virus that attacks the liver. Carroll County health officials moved swiftly to set up the clinic, ordering 4,000 doses from a California supplier.

There were no immediate reports of hepatitis A contracted by customers or current employees of the Eldersburg Wendy's. The potential danger arose when a woman, who had worked at the restaurant, tested positive for the contagious virus in a hospital exam.

The health department fielded thousands of questions by phone and publicized the clinics. News media rapidly spread the information, noting that hepatitis A is rarely fatal and does not recur. More than 1,100 people got shots in the first 6 hours of the clinic.

This is how such health emergencies should be handled, with available, reliable information, prompt inoculation with antibodies, tests of restaurant employees and sanitizing the kitchen.

While health authorities estimated that 3,000 customers of Wendy's from Sept. 1 to 12 could have been exposed, they pointed out that the greatest danger was to those who ate uncooked foods -- vegetables and salads. The shots are only effective within two weeks of exposure; customers in the first week of September were urged to see a physician for a hepatitis test.

The contagious employee -- since fired -- failed to use gloves as required in handling fresh foods, which would have limited the exposure. Hepatitis A is in human feces and typically transmitted by poor hygiene. Meanwhile, health officers are thankful that the virus was detected in time for the immune globulin shots to provide an antidote and prevent a serious outbreak.

Pub Date: 9/28/98

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