122 Hepatitis A cases reported in Gaston County, health leaders say

GASTON COUNTY, N.C. — Health leaders in Gaston County said they are fighting a Hepatitis A outbreak.

Officials reported 122 cases and initially said they were tied to two clusters connected to restaurants. On Friday, though, the county’s communications director clarified that no restaurants had an outbreak, sending Channel 9 the following:

“We have had two cases of individuals testing positive for Hep A whose job duties included food-handling. These cases were unrelated and isolated, but we carefully investigate these cases because of potential spread through contaminated food.

“Through our investigation, we identified no workplace contacts and based on state definitions deemed this very low risk due to appropriate protective measures being taken in the workplace and lack of symptoms at work. That is why there was not a public notification unlike previous cases/situations where we were concerned about potential public exposures and alerted the public to assist with our contact tracing.

“Neither of these individuals worked in a restaurant. If we had an outbreak in a restaurant, the Public Health department would notify the public about dates where there could have been a possible exposure. We apologize for any confusion.”

Health leaders said these case numbers are remarkably high, considering between 2018 and 2020 there were only 33 cases reported in total.

The outbreak started out in higher-risk people, such as those who use drugs, but now health officials said they are seeing it throughout the county, not just in high-risk groups.

The highly contagious liver infection is preventable by vaccine. As doctors didn’t start recommending it until the mid-1990s, officials said people shouldn’t assume they already have one. They advise people to check with their doctor.

Hand washing is also key. Hepatitis A spreads when someone’s stool accidentally contaminates food or water. Health officials think that as places are rushing to get back to normal, people are not washing their hands properly.

Some common symptoms of Hepatitis A include fever, fatigue, dark urine and jaundice, which is the yellowing of the skin or eyes.

No other details have been released.

Check back with wsoctv.com for updates.

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