Updated at 5:29 p.m.
The Mecklenburg County Health Department reports a new case of Hepatitis A from a worker at the Village Tavern in Charlotte. This comes amid an ongoing outbreak of the contagious liver disease that can last for weeks to months. Director of the county health department Gibbie Harris estimates about 150 people who ate or drank at the restaurant on October 30 may be at risk of infection and should be vaccinated as soon as possible.
The infected employee was admitted to an Atrium hospital Wednesday with Hepatitis A symptoms.
Since January, 64 cases have been reported in North Carolina and one person has died. The state health department says an average of 41 cases of Hepatitis A were reported each year in North Carolina from 2013-2017.
Hepatitis A can be prevented with good hygiene, including washing hands since it is often transmitted through contaminated food or water with traces of feces from a contagious person.
Symptoms of the disease, like fatigue, nausea, stomach pain, jaundice or loss of appetite, can appear within four weeks of exposure. Vaccination against the disease is most effective if received within two weeks of a potential exposure.
The health department is offering free vaccinations at its location on Billingsley Road through Tuesday, Nov. 13. Harris said the health department has educated Village Tavern employees about infection control measures and will be vaccinating them.
CEO of the Village Tavern inc. Tony Santarelli said he was notified by the health department about the employee and is taking precautionary measures to protect other employees and customers.
“The employee was not aware or showing symptoms the day he reported to work; and we are not aware of anyone getting sick or this employee infecting anyone," he said. "Food safety and personal hygiene are of the greatest importance in all of our restaurants, so we are proactively taking every step necessary to ensure the wellbeing of our employees and guests.”
Santarelli said the health department inspected the restaurant multiple times in the past 24 hours and found procedures are be in compliance with standards.
Since 2017, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has received more than 7,000 reports of Hepatitis A linked to a multi-state outbreak with higher than expected hospitalization and death rates. North Carolina health officials report 37 of the 64 cases reported this year are connected to the ongoing outbreak. More than 70 percent of cases reported in 2018 have resulted in hospitalization.
Harris said only a few of the 24 cases reported in Mecklenburg County this year have been food related. She said others have contracted Hepatitis A through sharing drugs and sex.
This summer, a worker at a Hardee's near the Charlotte airport was found to have Hepatitis A and the health department estimated about 4,000 people who ate at the restaurant during a two-week period were at risk. The county health department gave more than 2,000 vaccines during that time. Harris said the health department isn't aware of any reported cases of Hepatitis A from people who at at Hardee's during that time.
"The Hardee's situation was a big splash and people sort of felt like, 'Oh that’s over, done with, we’re finished.' This is not the case with this," Harris said of the outbreak. "We are continuing to see cases we are continuing to monitor this as closely as we can. And we are continuing to make efforts to prevent but we need the community to help us with that as well."
The CDC recommends the vaccine for kids at 1-years old and for others who are at risk of infection or complications related to the disease. Those who have already been fully vaccinated should be protected from contracting the disease.