Taco Bell, Domino's, Old Chicago Pizza all have workers with Hepatitis A infections this week
Less than three weeks after the last report of a Taco Bell employee with hepatitis A in the southern Indiana town of Floyd Knobs, another case was reported this week in Belle, West Virginia. These incidents joined with two other foodservice worker hepatitis A infections publicized this week in Louisville at a Domino's and an Old Chicago Pizza and Tap Room location to show the effects the multi-state outbreak is having on restaurant brands in the Midwest.
None of the health departments has yet released information to show that any other individuals have been infected as a result of the workers' diagnoses. In fact, the Louisville Metro Department of Health and Wellness and the Kanawha-Charleston Health Department in West Virginia clarified that no customers or other employees have reported cases of the illness.
The two Louisville employees worked at a 10000 Brownsboro Road location of Domino's and the Old Chicago Pizza location at 9013 Taylorsville Road, both to the eastern end of the city. The health department said customers who ate at the Domino's from April 15 to April 28, this year, along with customers who ate at the Old Chicago location from April 21 to May 5, this year, "may have been exposed to the hepatitis A virus."
While the health department said that although the risk of contracting hepatitis A from eating at either of the restaurants is low they issued the advisory out of what a news release said was an "abundance of caution.
The department said that when a foodservice worker receives a Hepatitis A diagnosis, the individual is immediately excluded from work and not allowed to return without a release from a medical provider. All other employees at the location are vaccinated, and the unit is completely disinfected and sanitized.
The department said both locations had scored very high in their last two inspections. They said the hepatitis A outbreak remains "centered among the homeless and those who use drugs." The disease is typically transmitted by putting something in your mouth -- including food or drink -- which has been in contact with the feces of an infected person.
In response to an inquiry about the incident from Pizza Marketplace, Domino's said the individual involved in the latest case was a former employee who last worked there on April 28 and drove for the chain, but "never had direct contact with food during her employment."
Domino's said the health department has now reported that the store is clean and free to operate, but that there had been no issues or complaints arising from the former employee's illness.
The Kentucky Department for Public Health declared a statewide hepatitis A outbreak in November. Since the outbreak, there have been 327 cases diagnosed in Louisville and nearly 27,000 vaccinated.
"While we have had a very small number of food workers diagnosed with hepatitis A in our community, there still has been NO foodborne transmission," health department Medical Director Dr. Lori Caloia, said in the release. "Also, our restaurant industry has really stepped up to the plate to get their workers immunized. About 5,000 local food service employees have been vaccinated against hepatitis A."
Vaccination and thorough and frequent handwashing are the best ways to prevent hepatitis A infection, though Caloia said, "Hand sanitizer is not as effective as hand washing against hepatitis A."
Old Chicago Pizza and Tap Room released a tollfree hotline number for its customers, and Pizza Marketplace has sent an email to Domino's to find out what measures it has in place.
In fact, this week in West Virginia, the Charleston Gazette-Mail reports that a Taco Bell location in the city of Belle also learned that a team member tested positive for the Hepatitis A virus. The chain told the newspaper that the brand immediately began working with the local Kanawha-Charleston Health Department to respond to the situation through proper health protocols.
Taco Bell said the employee diagnosed with the illness is on leave until they're cleared to return to work by health care professionals. That restaurant's employees were also vaccinated, and the restaurant was thoroughly sanitized. Late last month, an employee in the southern Indiana town of Floyd Knobs, just across the river from Louisville, Kentucky was also diagnosed with hepatitis A,
Kentucky, Indiana, West Virginia and Michigan are all part of a multi-state outbreak of the disease, which has infected more than 800 people in Michigan alone.
Award-winning veteran print and broadcast journalist, Shelly Whitehead, has spent most of the last 30 years reporting for TV and newspapers, including the former Kentucky and Cincinnati Post and a number of network news affiliates nationally. She brings her cumulative experience as a multimedia storyteller and video producer to the web-based pages of Pizzamarketplace.com and QSRweb.com after a lifelong “love affair” with reporting the stories behind the businesses that make our world go ‘round. Ms. Whitehead is driven to find and share news of the many professional passions people take to work with them every day in the pizza and quick-service restaurant industry. She is particularly interested in the growing role of sustainable agriculture and nutrition in food service worldwide and is always ready to move on great story ideas and news tips.