Hepatitis-A cases linked to restaurants

LANSING, Mich. (WILX) -- The Ingham County Health Department says the risk of getting Hepatitis A from someone who handles your food is low, but it can happen if people don't practice good hygiene.

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"Wash your hands, wash your hands, wash your hands, wash your hands. So the importance of washing your hands and hand hygiene cant be over emphasized in many infectious diseases. But this one in particular," said Health Officer, Linda Vail.

Hepatitis A is one of the top 5 food-borne illnesses. It can survive several hours on fingertips and up to two months on dry surfaces.

Ingham County's cases have been linked to homeless shelters, but two new cases in Detroit have been traced back to restaurants. Linda Vail doesn't think people need to be worried about eating out.

"Clearly we are seeing an outbreak right now but we shouldn't have a lot of people scared about restaurants in general. We inspect restaurants. The vast majority of it is from poor hand hygiene," said Vail.

That message is already resonating with a family that dines out quite a bit.

"Yes, it will definitely make me more cautious. Wash your hands, yes wash your hands for sure. We eat out a lot, so for that to be happening that's just like can't really be going out to eat like that. Yeah might need to slow down a little bit," said Charles Allen and April Burton.

The health department is encouraging restaurants to tell sick workers to stay home, and to make sure the staff takes precautions.

"Observing fore-food handling procedures. So is there hand washing going on, gloves, all of the different stuff that keeps these sorts of things from happening," said Vail.

The health department says the people at highest risk for hepatitis A in Ingham County are drug users and men who have sex with men,but it can also spread through normal family contact. It can be deadly if left untreated.

Today the state opened an emergency coordination center to keep cities and counties on the same page and to share information about the outbreak. It is encouraging everyone to get vaccinated. The vaccine even works up to two weeks after exposure.