Ocala restaurant employee infected with hepatitis A, officials say

Officials urge customers to get vaccinated, watch for symptoms

By Brianna Volz - Web producer
CDC via CNN

A microscopic image of the Hepatitis A virus, taken by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

MARION COUNTY, Fla. - Health officials are issuing a warning after identifying a case of hepatitis A in an Ocala restaurant employee.

Officials with the Department of Health in Marion County said Tuesday an investigation found that an employee at Charlie Horse Restaurant and Lounge, located at 2426 E. Silver Springs Blvd., may have been contagious from July 18 to Aug. 1.

Because the hepatitis A vaccine can protect against the disease if given within two weeks of the time someone is exposed to it, health officials are urging anyone who ate or drank at the restaurant from July 24 to Aug. 1 to get vaccinated.

Anyone who visited the restaurant from July 18 to July 23 should keep an eye out for any signs or symptoms of hepatitis A and report them to medical professionals immediately, health officials said.

What is hepatitis A?

Hepatitis A is a highly contagious disease that attacks the liver, according to the Health Department. People infected with it are most contagious from two weeks before the onset of symptoms to one week afterward, officials said.

[RELATED: Florida health officials issue public health emergency amid hepatitis A outbreakReport: Hepatitis A infections increased by nearly 300% over 2 years]

The warning from Marion County officials comes days after a public health emergency was declared in Florida, following a hepatitis A outbreak.

The state surgeon general said there has been a big increase in cases and that several counties are critically impacted by the virus, including Brevard, Lake, Marion, Orange, Sumter and Volusia counties.

Health officials said more than 2,000 hepatitis A cases have been reported in Florida this year.

Symptoms

Symptoms usually start within 28 days of being exposed to the virus and can last a range of 15 to 50 days, officials said.

According to the Department of Health, signs and symptoms include the following:

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

Not everyone infected by the virus will have all the symptoms, according to the department.

Protection

Health officials said vaccinations are the best way to prevent hepatitis A and recommend the following people get vaccinated:

  • All children at the age of 12 months
  • 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/long-term liver disease, including hepatitis B or hepatitis C
  • People with clotting-factor disorders
  • Family and caregivers of adoptees from countries where hepatitis A is common

The Department of Health in Marion County offers the hepatitis A vaccine for free and without an appointment at its Ocala office at 1801 SE 32nd Ave. from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday.

Residents can also get vaccinated free of charge at the following locations and times:

  • Saturday from 8 a.m. to noon at the Florida Department of Health in Marion County | 1801 SE 32nd Ave., Ocala
  • Saturday from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. at Horizon Academy | 365 Marion Oaks Drive, Ocala

If you live outside Marion County, contact your county's health department for information regarding hepatitis vaccinations.

Anyone who previously received the hepatitis A vaccine or has a history of the infection is considered immune to the virus, health officials said.

If you have questions about potential exposure to hepatitis A at Charlie Horse Restaurant and Lounge, call 352-644-2633 to reach the Marion County Department of Health's epidemiology staff.

You can learn more about the virus here.

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