Food-borne illnesses are no walk in the park. Getting an upset stomach after a greasy meal at an all-you-can-eat buffet or battling a case of food poisoning from your local fast-food chain may deter you from eating certain types of food ever again. But what happens when you unknowingly eat food infected with a more serious type of pathogen? Such is the case with the recent outbreak of Hepatitis A from two local Hardee’s near Spartanburg, SC.
Before we divulge, let’s look a little bit closer at Hepatitis A. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Hepatitis A is a liver infection caused by HAV (the Hepatitis A virus) found in contaminated food or water and can be passed by the fecal-oral route, either by person-to-person contact or consumption of said contaminated food or water. A HAV vaccination along with good hygiene making sure to properly sanitize when using public facilities and eating as clean as possible.
Unlike other viral infections, Hepatitis A infection has a limited lifespan in the body and will not become chronic. According to the Mayo Clinic, there is no specific cure for the virus since your body will clear on its own so its best to treat the symptoms, which include fatigue, nausea and vomiting, dark urine, joint pain, abdominal pain near the liver, loss of appetite, and low-grade fever, until the body clears the infection (which usually takes about six months). The only thing to really worry about is decreased liver function if the virus persists in a patient with immunodeficiencies like HIV. Resting your liver (decreasing alcohol intake) will help clear the infection more quickly.
So, how can we be sure that the food we eat at our local restaurants is clean? Food Safety News is a reliable online source that reports on food safety throughout the country and will highlight restaurants with recent outbreaks. Also, checking to make sure the restaurant has up-to-date and high-scoring health codes that encompass food testing will ensure you are eating somewhere that is safe for you and your family. Getting properly vaccinated is also a good step toward optimal health, especially when you are traveling to areas with high risk of infection. Local and national health departments also do their best to control outbreaks whenever such incidences should arise like the 2013 Hepatitis A Outbreak across multiple states from ingesting infected pomegranate seeds from a Turkish, organic importer. The article explains the process for investigating the cause of the virus outbreak by examining the infected people (what foods were consumed before symptoms arose, where the foods were purchased, etc) and its subsequent target, the specific brand of pomegranate seeds usually grown in North Africa and the Middle East. An immense amount of work from the FDA and CDC goes into investigations like this all for good reasons- to identify the outbreak, stop the spread, and prevent further outbreaks of a similar kind. Needles to say, the product was recalled and all 162 infections were found and controlled.
This may seem like a scene from The Walking Dead, with a virus spreading like wildfire in an apocalyptic society, but the FDA and CDC work tirelessly and endlessly to prevent outbreaks like Hepatitis A and other infections. Knowledge is power and knowledge, in this case, is knowing proper hygiene, being cognizant of signs and symptoms of certain types of viruses, and getting properly vaccinated to prevent future infections. PPA also works tirelessly to provide materials for scientists and researchers in the viral infection fields to create vaccinations and diagnostic test kits. If you have been infected with Hepatitis A and are currently experiencing symptoms, you could help fulfill biologic specimen and plasma for research purposes. Check out PPA online or call us today for more information regarding our donor programs for research. Remember, knowledge is power and you are in the driver seat!