CALGARY – A food handler at the Original Joe’s restaurant in Strathmore, Alta. has tested positive for hepatitis A, and anyone who ate there over a 10-day period may have been exposed, health officials are warning. Alberta Health Services said with about 200 patrons visiting the Original Joe’s location each day, there could be up to 2,200 people at risk.
Alberta Health Services says the food handler worked at the #8, 100 Ranch Market location.
Anyone who ate at this restaurant from June 9 to June 19 inclusive may have been exposed to hepatitis A, though Calgary’s medical officer of health, Dr. Judy MacDonald, believes the risk is low.
“I think the risk is really low that there could’ve been any transmission here because food handlers do usually know they should be using good hand hygiene,” she said. “But because there is a possibility, we are recommending this hepatitis A vaccine for those potentially exposed.”
AHS will offer a vaccine to all people who ate food from the Original Joe’s location above over that 10-day period. The vaccine is most effective within 14 days of exposure, said MacDonald.
Hepatitis A vaccination clinics will be held as follows on June 23 and 24:
Northgate Clinic, Calgary from 1 p.m. to 9 p.m. Drop-in only at A154, 495 – 36 St. N.E.
Calgary Chestermere Community Health Centre from 1 p.m. to 9 p.m. Drop-in only at 288 Kinniburgh Blvd.
MacDonald says the virus is transmitted through the “fecal oral route,” which means the virus could be present in an infected person’s stool.
“If they are not careful with their hand hygiene after they use the washroom, and they go and prepare food for anybody, that food could become contaminated,” she said.
AHS inspected the restaurant on June 19, at which time Original Joe’s was cleaned until a re-inspection found it up to standard.
“The restaurant did take steps back on the 19th to clean and disinfect everything and throw out any food that was potentially contaminated by this food handler.”
Original Joe’s parent company, FranWorks Group of Companies, confirmed that it was working with AHS in a statement, and said there’s “no ongoing risk to the public” at the Strathmore eatery.
“The location is open and safe for all staff and guests.”
Hepatitis A is a viral disease generally associated with poor sanitation and poor hygiene, according to Health Canada. It can be spread through contaminated food and water or through close contact with an infected person. Symptoms can take 15 to 50 days to appear, though some experience no symptoms at all.“While we believe the risk to the public is low, hepatitis A is a serious infection,” said Calgary’s medical officer of health, Dr. Judy MacDonald. “A vaccine administered within 14 days of exposure can greatly reduce the risk for patrons who consumed food at this location during this time frame.”
Symptoms can include fever, fatigue, loss of appetite, nausea and vomiting, abdominal discomfort, dark urine and grey-colored stool, jaundice (yellowing of skin and whites of eyes); in rare conditions liver damage, liver failure, or death can occur. Individuals with pre-existing chronic liver disease and older people are most at risk for this, says Health Canada.
There’s no treatment other than support for the relief of symptoms. Recovery typically takes a few weeks, but can take months. Health Canada says most people recover without side effects and have lifelong immunity against the virus.
Alberta Health Services data shows an increase in hepatitis A cases in Calgary since last year: Nine cases were confirmed in 2014, and 16 cases have already been confirmed so far in 2015. Across the province, 24 cases were confirmed in Alberta in 2014; 20 cases have been confirmed so far in 2015.
For more information on hepatitis A, you can call Health Link at 811 to speak to a registered nurse 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
With files from Carolyn Kury de Castillo