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Orlando doctor explains how to stop spread of hepatitis A

Denny's customers encouraged to visit doctor if experiencing symptoms

ORLANDO, Fla. – After two employees at a Kissimmee Denny's tested positive for hepatitis A, a Central Florida doctor is speaking out about how you can prevent contracting the disease.

In response to the presence of hepatitis A at the restaurant, the Florida Department of Health's Osceola County branch has alerted health agencies across the U.S. of the incident.

Details about the case have been added to an online computer-based exchange used by health care professionals across the country.

According to the Osceola County Department of Health, this will potentially assist with finding out-of-state customers who ate at the Denny's at 2051 E. Irlo Bronson Memorial Highway between Oct. 14 and Nov. 1.

With no exact way to determine who may have contracted hepatitis A or its symptoms from eating at the restaurant, News 6 asked Denny's officials if they had any identifiable information on restaurant patrons during the risk period.

"Denny’s continues to cooperate fully with the DOH and has taken all possible steps with regard to notification, however we do not collect or retain the personal information of any of our guests. The DOH has provided notification and all necessary steps anyone concerned with exposure should take, both to the media and on their website," a Denny's spokesperson said in a statement.

This case comes months after the Florida Surgeon General issued a public health emergency in August in response to a hepatitis A outbreak.

According to the FDOH, there have been 3,518 reported cases of hepatitis A in Florida since Jan. 1, 2018, and more than 22,000 across the U.S. in that same timeframe.

Dr. Benjamin Kaplan, a lead physician at Orlando Health Medical Group specializing in internal medicine, said hepatitis A is commonly transmitted through poor hygiene practices. 

"If you have someone that will use the restroom and doesn't wash their hands that is infected or, during the incubation period, where that virus can be transmitted, they can get the virus on their hand and then put that virus on different types of things that you can consume," Kaplan said. "As you consume it, you get the virus yourself."

Kaplan said that if you are experiencing any nausea, fever, vomiting or intestinal problems, to contact your doctor, as these may be possible first symptoms of hepatitis A.

"The best thing is awareness. Be aware the virus is out there and you can get infected," Kaplan said. "It's not very much in the population, but there are cases of it. The second thing is good hand hygiene after using the restroom. That's the best practice."

Those who have already received the vaccine or who have had a past history of hepatitis A do not need to take additional action.

Certain people are more at risk for infection than others but anyone can get a vaccine just in case. People at increased risk include:

  • All children at age 1 year 
  • People who are experiencing homelessness 
  • Users of recreational drugs, whether injected or not 
  • Men who have sexual encounters with other men 
  • People with direct contact with others who have hepatitis A 
  • Travelers to countries where hepatitis A is common 
  • People with chronic or long-term liver disease, including hepatitis B or hepatitis C 
  • People with clotting-factor disorders 
  • Family and caregivers of adoptees from countries in which hepatitis A is common

The disease is most commonly transmitted through the fecal-oral route, officials said. Symptoms include:

  • Jaundice-yellowing of skin and whites of eyes 
  • Fever 
  • Diarrhea 
  • Fatigue
  • Loss of appetite 
  • Nausea and vomiting 
  • Stomach pain 
  • Dark-colored urine 
  • Pale or clay-colored stool 

The Florida Department of Health in Osceola County, located at 1875 Fortune Road in Kissimmee, offers hepatitis A vaccines for free or at a low cost at its clinic from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. on weekdays.