Starbucks works testing positive for hepatitis A, giving rise to mass vaccination of customers

Drinking cups with the logo from Starbucks Coffee.

Drinking cups with the logo from Starbucks Coffee.
Photo: Stephen Chernin (Getty Images)

New Jersey health authorities are fighting to prevent an outbreak of hepatitis A after a Starbucks employee reportedly tested positive for the virus last week. The place where the employee worked was temporarily shut down and hundreds of people have received a vaccine against the virus, including the employee’s employees. However, potentially thousands of people may be at risk of contracting the foodborne illness, and officials are recommends that unvaccinated customers who visited the store in early to mid-November get a chance.

Camden County officials say they were announced of the case on November 17 by a health nurse treating the patient who is a grocery store at the Starbucks site at 1490 Blackwood Clementon Road in Gloucester Township. Health inspectors visited the store and found no signs of food safety breaches, yet made the decision to close its doors until all workers were vaccinated. The county also held vaccine clinics over the weekend, allegedly vaccinating hundreds of potentially vulnerable people.

Hepatitis A is one of five major viruses known to cause hepatitis, or titular hepatitis. Its symptoms include fever, vomiting, diarrhea, dark-colored urine and jaundice, and typically occur 28 days after exposure. Hepatitis A is usually not life threatening, nor a potentially chronic infection such as hepatitis B and C, although older people are more likely to become seriously ill. The disease it causes usually lasts less than two months, but it can last up to six months for 10% to 15% of patients. The virus is very contagious to start, especially in the first two weeks after symptoms. It is usually spread through food and water contaminated with a person’s infected feces, although close and sexual contact can also spread it.

Because the employee had worked their entire most contagious period, it is possible that thousands of people may have been exposed to the virus, health officials have said. Everyone who visited the store on November 4-6 and November 11-13 is advised to get the hepatitis A vaccine. They should get the vaccine as soon as possible and no later than 14 days after any exposure, as it is unlikely to work then.

Camden health officials say that they born after 2000 have probably already been vaccinated, although people or their guardians should check with a doctor to be sure. The hEpatitis A vaccine has been recommended for all children after the first year of life in the United States since 2006, although only 68% of teens received the full two-dose schedule from 2017, and some states do not authorize it to get into primary school. Both infection and vaccination are is thought to confer lifelong immunity to the virus.

Despite being preventable with vaccine, annual cases of hepatitis A have been increasing in recent years. In 2019, there were almost 20,000 cases reported in USA. This recovery has been driven by outbreaks among people experiencing homelessness, as well as people using drugs. But earlier this year became a big one outbreak linked to a restaurant chain in Virginia sick leave at least 50 residents and left three dead.

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