Customers who recently ate at the Fairway Market deli on Quadra Street are urged to get vaccinated for hepatitis A after an employee tested positive for the virus this week.
Health officials are offering immunizations to employees of the market – Fairway Market store No. 11, located at 2635 Quadra St. – and its customers in order to prevent the spread of infection.
The Vancouver Island Health Authority is urging anyone who ate deli food prepared in-store on March 18, 19, 20, 22, 25 or 26 to receive a hepatitis A vaccine as a precaution.
Drop-in immunization clinics for Fairway Market employees and eligible members of the public will take place Saturday and Sunday at the Victoria Health Unit, located at 1947 Cook St., from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m.
Customers at the deli between March 7 and 15 may also have been exposed to the virus but vaccines will no longer be effective because too much time has passed, said Charmaine Enns, a VIHA medical health officer.
The alert does not apply to produce, sushi or foods purchased from other areas of the grocery store, nor does it apply to the other seven Fairway Market grocery stores in Victoria and on Vancouver Island.
“Right now, we have a single case. Hopefully, it will just stay at a single case,” Enns said. “In this situation, I feel quite confident the risk is small.”
Enns said the incident is likely not related to a hepatitis A outbreak that has spread throughout Vancouver Island. The health authority recorded about 90 to 100 cases of hepatitis A in the past 17 months in regions including the Cowichan Valley, Nanaimo, Port Alberni and Campbell River.
Hepatitis A is rarely fatal, with the majority of people recovering in about a month. The virus, which infects the liver, is found mostly in the stool of the infected person and is most often spread through direct contact or indirectly through contaminated food or water.
Symptoms include fever, tiredness, loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting and abdominal pain. Things can get worse days later with the onset of dark-coloured urine, light-coloured stools and jaundice, a yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes.
“It becomes of interest to the public and to us when that [infected] person is a food handler, because then it’s not just that person’s circle of close contacts who is at risk, it’s the general public now at risk,” Enns said.
The health authority cautions people who develop any of these symptons to stay home from work or school. There is a two-week period in which a person can carry the virus without symptoms, which allows it to spread undetected. Once a person has had jaundice for two weeks, they are no longer considered infectious.
Identifying the source is a challenge, particularly when there is only one identified infection.
VIHA has not been able to identify the source of this latest exposure because the Fairway Market employee has not travelled out of country and is known to follow food safety guidelines at work.
“Without a travel history, it’s difficult to tell where that exposure came from,” Enns said. “Really, this represents the reality of hepatitis A: It happens.”
Getting exposed while visiting other countries is the more common way to get infected.
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