No connection between hepatitis A exposure at Aiken restaurants, DHEC official says

February 15, 2019

A DHEC official said there is no evidence that currently links possible recent exposures to hepatitis A at two Aiken restaurants.

“I want to emphasize that the concern is not with the restaurant, but with the food handler,” said South Carolina State Epidemiologist and Chief of DHEC’s Bureau of Communicable Disease Prevention and Control Linda Bell during a conference call about the virus.

Bell said DHEC has seen cases of hepatitis A in Aiken as far back as November of last year.

Public alarm was raised when Aiken Brewing Company reported a possible exposure to the virus due to an infected employee. On Feb. 13, DHEC announced a second possible exposure to the virus at City Billiards, the second Aiken restaurant in two weeks.

However, both Bell and a recent DHEC press release stated that the proximity of the restaurants and the close timing does not indicate a link between the two.

Hepatitis A is not a foodborne virus. It occurs when someone comes into contact with bodily fluids of an infected person. As such, it is rare for someone to catch hepatitis A from a restaurant employee. Food handlers are of greater concern.

During an interview, Bell went over additional health tips and safety concerns regarding the virus.

“After about two weeks the virus will run its course,” Bell said.

Although fatalities due to hepatitis A are rare, Bell said those experiencing symptoms should still seek medical attention, as symptoms can be “quite severe.”

DHEC has declared a hepatitis outbreak in the county, as 10 cases is unusual for Aiken. However, Bell said this is a low number compared to current outbreaks across the country, which some states have been battling for over a year.

“We’re trying to get ahead of it,” Bell said. The general public is being encouraged to receive the vaccination as well, which provides future protection against the virus.

One of the best ways to prevent the spread of the virus, aside from receiving the vaccine, is for employees and food handlers to frequently wash their hands.

Customers and staff who ate food prepared at City Billiards from Jan. 31 to Feb. 5 are encouraged to contact their healthcare provider, or come to the Aiken County Health Department located at 222 Beaufort St. N.E. for post-exposure treatment on the following date and times:

• Thursday, Feb. 14, from 10 a.m. – 6 p.m.

• Friday, Feb. 15, from 10 a.m. – 6 p.m.

• Saturday, Feb. 16, from 10 a.m. – 4 p.m.