Trader Joe’s employee with hepatitis A prompts public alert

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It’s too late for them to receive post-exposure treatment for hepatitis A, but customers of a Trader Joe’s grocery store in Reno, NV, are being asked to monitor themselves in the coming weeks for symptoms of the highly contagious virus.

Neither Trader Joe’s nor the Washoe County Health District had posted information on the situation as of 7 p.m. EST Monday. No one was immediately available to provide comment at the grocery chain headquarters or health district.

It was not known Monday evening if the Trader Joe’s employee was infected with the same strain of hepatitis A responsible for a multi-state outbreak that has sickened more than 1,200 people, hospitalizing more than 800 and killing 41.

A consumer posted a notice that appears to be on Washoe County Health District letterhead. It warns customers about their possible exposure and urges anyone with symptoms to immediately seek medical attention. The exposure period was from Oct. 20-31, making it well past the two-week window of opportunity for customers to receive the post-exposure treatment.

Phil Ulibarri, a spokesman for the health district, told local media the store reported the confirmed case of hepatitis A in early November. The employee works as a stocker and a cashier. Stockers wears gloves, but cashiers do not, local ABC and NBC news affiliates reported Monday afternoon.

Ulibarri told the local television news stations that the chances the employee spread hepatitis A to another person is not likely. However, public health agencies from local to federal levels all describe the hepatitis A virus as “highly contagious” and say infected people can easily contaminate objects and food.

Infected people can transfer the virus to food by touching it, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Surfaces and beverages can also become contaminated. Close personal contact, especially with other household members, can spread the virus.

“The hepatitis A virus is able to survive outside the body for months. High temperatures, such as boiling or cooking food or liquids for at least 1 minute at 185 degrees F, kill the virus, although freezing temperatures do not,” according to the CDC.

The Washoe County Health District notice indicates customers of the Reno Trader Joe’s should watch for symptoms through Dec. 20. The CDC reports it can take up to seven weeks for symptoms of hepatitis A to develop. People are contagious for up to two weeks before symptoms appear.

Children younger than 6 years old often do not develop symptoms when infected with the virus. Older children and adults usually have symptoms, which can include:

  • Fever
  • Fatigue
  • Loss of appetite
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Abdominal pain
  • Dark urine
  • Clay-colored stools
  • Joint pain
  • Jaundice, which usually causes a yellowing of the skin and eyes

Symptoms usually last less than two months, according to the CDC, although 10 to 15 percent of people with hepatitis A can have symptoms for as long as six months.

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