Starbucks worker may have exposed thousands of customers to Hepatitis A

At least 800 jabs administered so far to make this the largest hepatitis A vaccine effort in New Jersey

Namita Singh
Monday 22 November 2021 07:22
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Starbucks employee in Gloucester Township tests positive for hepatitis A

A Starbucks employee in New Jersey potentially exposed thousands of customers to hepatitis A after the food handler went to work while sick, and later tested positive for the infection.

The Camden County health department learned of the incident on 17 November after it was informed by a health care provider that the employee at the Starbucks outlet in Gloucester township had tested positive for hepatitis A and had worked through the infectious period, the department said in an 18 November statement.

Soon after, the department closed the coffee store and said the outlet would not be “reopened until all employees were vaccinated”.

All the patrons who visited the outlet on 4, 5, 6, 11, 12 and 13 November have been urged to get a jab “no later than 14 days after contact”.

“An investigation was instantly commissioned, and members of the Food Surveillance Unit visited the store on Wednesday to conduct an inspection, which showed no evidence of food safety violations,” said the department.

Employees at the Starbucks outlet were given 17 hepatitis A jabs by the health department, which set up a pop-up clinic offering free vaccines on Friday and Saturday, reported CNN.

County spokesperson Dan Keashen told the news network that they had administered nearly 800 vaccines so far, making this the largest hepatitis A vaccine effort in the state.

Given about 600 people visit the Starbucks outlet a day, the department suspected “the exposure is probably in the thousands,” Mr Keashen pointed out.

Hepatitis A is a contagious liver disease that spreads when a person ingests objects, food or drinks that have been contaminated by the faeces or stool of an infected person. The symptoms can include fever, fatigue, nausea, abdominal discomfort, dark urine and jaundice.

“Our highest priority is ensuring everyone involved remains safe and healthy,” said Camden County health officer Paschal Nwako.

“The patient is not currently working, and close contacts have been identified. We encourage anyone who may believe they were exposed to get vaccinated against hepatitis A by calling the county health department or your primary care physician.”

Starbucks, in a statement on Sunday, said it was working “closely with Camden County Health Department and are fully in compliance with all requirements.”

“There is no evidence that any customers or partners were affected,” said the company.

According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), a total of 12,474 hepatitis A cases were reported in the US in 2018. Because some people don’t ever get diagnosed, the CDC suspects the actual number of cases to be probably closer to 24,900.

While the cases of hepatitis A declined dramatically since 1996, when the vaccine was first recommended, the country has been observing person-to-person outbreaks since 2016, mainly among people who use injection drugs or are experiencing homelessness, resulting in more than 32,000 cases, said the CDC.

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