Mecklenburg Co. health department wraps up hepatitis A vaccinations following outbreak

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Mecklenburg County has completed its hepatitis A clinics after thousands of people were possibly exposed to the disease at a west Charlotte Hardee's.

The health department reported a total of 2,056 people received the vaccinations over 11 days.

Officials said up to 4,000 people who ate the Hardee's on Little Rock Road were potentially exposed to hepatitis A.

Latest developments:

  • 2,056 people were vaccinated as of Saturday morning 
  • Impacts customers who ate at the 2604 Little Rock Road Hardee's between June 13-23
  • You must be vaccinated within 14 days of coming into contact with hepatitis A

Officials said those who were exposed can receive the vaccine through next Saturday at public health locations on Beatties Ford Road and Billingsley Road.

The hours of these clinics vary each day.

Two public health information hotlines are available to answer hepatitis A questions:

  • 980-314-9400
  • 844-221-1926

The health director said those impacted can now get the hepatitis A shot at any health department in the state for free.

She said people have come to Charlotte’s clinics from other states.

While the contagious employee at Hardee’s was working, thousands of people were stranded in Charlotte because of the glitch with American Airline’s regional carrier, PSA airlines.

The health director said they have no way of knowing how many people that live out of state were impacted.

She also said the county isn’t looking at credit and debit card purchases from the fast food restaurant.

“Legally, I am not sure what the process would be. I have never been involved in an outbreak where we have done that,” Health Director Gibbie Harris said.

The Mecklenburg County Health Department is still urging people who ate at the Hardee's restaurant on Little Rock Road to receive a hepatitis A vaccination as soon as possible.

The health department is making sure they have plenty of vaccines.

“The state got a shipment,” Harris told Channel 9. “We got a shipment of vaccine (Thursday.) We're expecting another one (Thursday.) We've purchased some additional vaccines that should come tomorrow. We want to make sure we have sufficient vaccine for anyone who thinks they need it.”

Doses of the vaccine have also been shipped to surrounding counties.

We first updated WSOCTV news app users with a notification Wednesday morning that they may have been exposed to hepatitis A.

Download the WSOCTV news app for your smartphone and get updates on this story as they come in.

“After consulting with the state today, we are recommending a vaccination for exposed employees and patrons who ate at the 2604 Little Rock Road location between June 13 and 23,” Harris said in a statement.

Officials said as many as 4,000 people ate at the restaurant over that 10-day period.

[RELATED: Mecklenburg Co. health officials begin biweekly updates after 5 confirmed hepatitis A cases]

There have been 12 cases of hepatitis A this year -- 10 since April 20.

Health officials said the outbreak identified by the state and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention earlier this month has led to five more cases since June 6, including a Hardee's employee diagnosed Monday.

Here’s a list of vaccination clinics for customers who might have been exposed:

  • Sunday, July 1 from 10 a.m. – 3 p.m. at the Hal Marshall Building, 700 N. Tryon St
  • Monday, July 2, Tuesday, July 3, Thursday, July 5 and Friday, July 6: public health locations at 2845 Beatties Ford Road and 249 Billingsley Road, 8 a.m.-5 p.m.
  • Wednesday, July 4:  2845 Beatties Ford Road, 9 a.m.- 1 p.m.
  • Saturday, July 7:  2845 Beatties Ford Road, 9 a.m. – 1 p.m.

“There's enough problems out here. I don't need anymore,” said Mark Fritze, who ate at the Hardee’s two weeks ago.

Reaching those who may be affected

County officials said they are working with the state to warn potentially impacted people about the hepatitis A concerns. The health department also said they are beefing up outreach efforts and plan to distribute educational material to people in high-risk groups.

There wasn't a doctor in the room when the health director told commissioners about the Hardee's connection and Commissioner Pat Cotham wants that to change.

“None of us have direct experience in healthcare,” Cotham said.

Cotham wants to establish a separate board of health that would oversee the department. Currently, the health director reports to the county manager instead of medical professionals.

In May, commissioners voted to create a committee to explore those changes. Cotham said the past controversies and major incidents like this show the board is needed.

“Because we've had problems, to me, it is even more important we continue with vigor,” Cotham said.

The county will not say how the employee at Hardee's got the disease. The county is keeping track of all of the people who received the vaccinations.

The health department said it is going to distribute information to community groups, partner organizations and gay bars. The county is also using social media, paid marketing and coordinating clinics to reach out to high-risk groups.

“Get the shot and should be OK, but still, it’s aggravating to miss the time from work,” Michael Rappe, who was in the line, said.

“I didn't pay any attention to it until they said Hardee’s, and I was like, ‘Oh goodness,’” said Phillip Davidson, whose co-worker brought him biscuits from Hardee’s two weeks ago.

Officials said the employee who tested positive for hepatitis A handled food and that’s why others may have been exposed.

Leaders frustrated with timeline of events

The health department found out Monday that the employee was diagnosed with the liver disease but waited until Tuesday to notify the public.

“We really didn’t have all the information yesterday, and had we talked to the state yesterday it really wouldn’t have changed our time frame,” Harris said.

Mecklenburg County commissioners are concerned about the timeline of notification. Cotham said the health department dragged its feet on the issue and should have told the public sooner.

“If it had been in Myers Park at the Panera Bread, would it have been different?” Cotham asked.

The health director added that if the employee who was diagnosed with hepatitis A was not handling food, she may not have told the public about it at all.

The Hardee's restaurant voluntarily closed Tuesday afternoon and a new sign on the restaurant's door Wednesday said it would be closed indefinitely.

Several customers drove into the restaurant’s parking lot Wednesday and turned around after seeing it was closed.

“For someone who has kids and who is currently pregnant, that’s terrifying,” Kelcie Lynch said.

Lynch had stopped at the restaurant for a bite to eat on her way to Florida and had no idea why it was closed.

Channel 9 spoke to a customer who said he ate there Tuesday morning and was trying to get some answers.

"They said it was precautionary. They're cleaning things up. They said I should be OK, but I am still going to call my doctor," Darren Brown said.

Daniel Hunt ate at Hardee's twice during the time period, and he plans to get a hepatitis A shot.

“I am a little nervous about it, but I am trying to stay strong,” Hunt said.

The county conducted an environmental assessment and said it found nothing to shut the restaurant down. The Hardee's received A's on the county's inspections in January and August.

What to know about hepatitis A 

According to the CDC, the vaccine must be given within 14 days of exposure for it to be effective.

Channel 9 learned that just 500 doses of the vaccine cost about $12,000, and the state is paying for the vaccinations because it has been classified as an outbreak.

There are three different strains of the virus, hepatitis A, B and C, and all involve infections of the liver.

Hepatitis A, the strain in Charlotte's outbreak, is not chronic. Unlike hepatitis B and C, most people recover from hepatitis A with no lasting liver damage, and it’s also very rare for someone to die from it.

The symptoms of hepatitis A are the same for all strains: fever, fatigue, nausea or jaundice, and they can appear two weeks to six months after exposure.

The health department said anyone who dined at the involved Hardee's location on June 13 and 14 should get a vaccination within the next two days.

Officials said they are setting up a hotline for staff to answer questions about the potential exposure, but the number isn't available yet.

You can find more information about hepatitis A on the health department's website.

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