PORTLAND, Maine — The Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention on Thursday urged local medical organizations to be on the lookout for hepatitis A symptoms after determining a Cumberland County restaurant worker served food this month while contagious with the disease.
In an alert distributed to a range of area hospitals and health care groups, Dr. Sheila Pinette, director of the state CDC, said the restaurant worker in question served food while infectious from Sept. 29-Oct. 11.
“A public health assessment of the employee’s illness, and food and beverage preparation practices, determined that restaurant patrons may be at risk for hepatitis A infection,” Pinette said in the alert, in part.
Pinette said in the alert that the virus is “transmitted by the fecal-oral route,” meaning the greatest risk is to restaurant customers who may have consumed food or water contaminated with feces particles from the infected server.
A spokesman for the Maine Department of Health and Human Services did not immediately respond to a request for more information, such as the name of the restaurant where the server worked or how many diners may have been exposed.
In her Thursday alert, Pinette noted that there is a 14-day post-exposure window during which individuals can be given a vaccine to prevent the disease from taking hold, but that state officials were notified of the restaurant worker’s condition too late to provide that treatment to customers who may have been exposed.
“Health care providers are encouraged to remain vigilant for hepatitis A infection in persons with consistent symptoms,” she said in the alert. “Persons will begin to exhibit symptoms 15-50 days after exposure to the virus. A person is considered infectious approximately two weeks prior to symptom onset until one week after onset of symptoms.”
Hepatitis A symptoms include fever, nausea, dark urine, clay-colored stool, jaundice, abdominal discomfort and anorexia, according to the CDC alert.
About a year ago, state officials announced that roughly 100 people who attended a church supper at the Durham Friends Meetinghouse were possibly exposed to the virus at the event.
In that case, the CDC was able to hold a nearby clinic to administer vaccines to potentially infected individuals within the necessary 14-day window.