How Contagious Is Hepatitis A From a Restaurant?

A recent case of Hepatitis A at a Toledo Dave and Buster’s is concerning local patrons who recently dined there. But how contagious is this condition?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), “hepatitis A is a highly contagious liver infection caused by the hepatitis A virus” which causes the liver to become inflamed. The prevalence of hepatitis A has decreased since the vaccine was introduced in 1995, but it’s still common and contagious.

However, the likelihood of getting it from a food worker may not be as high as you think. Michael Basista, MD, a gastroenterologist with ProMedica Physicians, said that patrons have a fairly low risk of acquiring hepatitis A from a restaurant employee. Like other viruses, it’s spread when food, typically uncooked food (such as a salad) or already cooked food, is touched by the person infected. “If they didn’t wash their hands they could pass it on,” he explained.

“Other employees are at a somewhat higher risk because they work alongside the person,” said Dr. Basista. Immediate family, too, is also at risk. For these people, a hepatitis A vaccination is recommended.

Fatigue, fever, yellowish skin (jaundice), and vomiting are some of the symptoms of hepatitis A, although young children often show no or very few symptoms. Those with certain preexisting conditions, or who previously had untreated hepatitis B or C may get sicker than the average person. Symptoms typically last for about 1-2 months, but could last up to six months in rare cases. The virus is contagious for up to two weeks, even before some symptoms appear, making it difficult to prevent it from spreading.

The good news: “Hepatitis A doesn’t cause a chronic condition and once you have it you’re immune,” said Dr. Basista. Having hepatitis A also doesn’t increase your risk for cirrhosis or cancer.

Dr. Basista recommends that those with liver problems or other significant health problems ask their doctors about the hepatitis A vaccination if they may have been exposed.

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