Slayton to begin shots for hepatitis A at noon

  • Article by: MAURA LERNER , Star Tribune
  • Updated: May 4, 2007 - 11:12 AM

Health officials hope to prevent further cases of the virus in southwestern Minnesota after 2 Slayton restaurant workers fell ill.

Health officials will begin offering preventive shots at noon today to as many as 1,500 people who may have been exposed to hepatitis A at a restaurant in southwestern Minnesota.

The Pizza Ranch in Slayton has been closed since Tuesday, when tests confirmed that two employees were infected by the virus that causes the liver infection, according to the Minnesota Department of Health.

So far, there is no evidence that any customers have been infected, said Dr. Ruth Lynfield, acting state epidemiologist.

But she said that health officials plan to offer both customers and employees shots of immune globulin, a substance that can help prevent serious infection up to 14 days after exposure.

"It's not quite an outbreak yet," said Lynfield, who added that "we have two cases in food workers and we're very concerned."

Hepatitis A is caused by a virus found in feces. It is commonly transmitted by eating food or drinking beverages contaminated by infected feces. The restaurant serves about 800 to 1,000 meals per week, Lynfield said.

She added that as many as 3,000 of the restaurant's customers may have been exposed to the virus since early April, when it is believed that the two food workers were infected.

However, the shots are being offered only to customers who ate at the restaurant, or at one of its catered events, from April 20 to May 1.

Those exposed before April 20 would not benefit from the shots, which must be given within two weeks of exposure, Lynfield said.

The shots will be offered from noon to 8 p.m. Friday and 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday at the Murray County Fairgrounds in Slayton, a town of 2,000 located 180 miles southwest of the Twin Cities.

Of the two original patients, one has been hospitalized, according to Lynfield. No other information about their condition was available.

More results due soon

Local health officials hope to have test results on other employees as early as today, said John Schuh, public health administrator for Murray County and three neighboring counties.

He said the restaurant, which has 20 employees, has cooperated fully. It will remain closed during the Health Department investigation, he said.

Hepatitis A symptoms can include fever, tiredness, abdominal pain, loss of appetite, nausea and jaundice, a yellowing of the skin or eyes.

In rare cases, the infection can be fatal. Most people recover within a few weeks, although symptoms can last for months in some cases, Lynfield said. Young children typically have no symptoms, she said.

This is the first time in seven years that a potential outbreak of hepatitis A has been traced to a Minnesota restaurant. In 2000, an outbreak at the Hoggsbreath Bar and Restaurant in Little Canada sickened several dozen employees and customers.

Annual cases of hepatitis have dropped since the 1990s, when they numbered in the hundreds, to 36 in 2005, according to state records.

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