Update on hepatitis A exposure investigation

By Jamie Shuster

Last Friday we were notified that an employee who worked at a popular Hilton Head Island restaurant the evening of February 15 had tested positive for hepatitis A.

Hepatitis A is a liver disease caused by a virus. People usually get sick within 15-50 days of exposure to the virus, so it’s important to get preventive treatment right away. This treatment consists of a vaccine, which must be given within 14 days of exposure to be effective.

Over the last week, our division of acute disease epidemiology (DADE) team has worked with the restaurant and the CDC to alert the public to the situation, and have attempted to contact customers and staff of the restaurant to recommend that they receive post-exposure treatment for hepatitis A by March 1.

Since February 21, DHEC staff from DADE, the Lowcountry region, nursing, immunizations, legal, outreach, bureau of environmental health services (BEHS), and the Care Line have been working together to ensure that customers and staff are alerted to the health threat and seek care. Our efforts have included everything from interviewing people who were potentially exposed and fielding phone calls from the public, to quickly ordering vaccines, staffing our Bluffton clinic, and reaching out to credit card companies, local hotels and the media.

Below is a quick update on the investigation and response effort as of today:

  • 40/40 restaurant employees who worked the evening of Feb. 15 were vaccinated by DHEC or provided proof of vaccination;
  • 167 restaurant customers have spoken to DHEC staff regarding their exposure;
  • family and close contacts of the sick employee have been reached by DHEC staff; and
  • 125/125 restaurant customers who paid by credit card have been contacted by DHEC or their issuing bank.

Thank you to all of our staff members across the agency who have worked long hours over the last week as part of this investigation and response effort.

We will continue to investigate this exposure incident, and do everything we can to encourage individuals who may have been exposed to the hepatitis A virus to seek immediate, preventive treatment.