Seen and heard: Hepatitis A exposure in Ontario

Line-ups usually seen at the Fergus curling club or Legion bar – not at the offices of Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph Public Health (below, exactly as shown). Following the report of a hepatitis A-positive cook at Marj’s, an Alma, Ontario (that’s in Canada) diner, public health officials have been busy issuing protective IgG shots to exposed patrons.

According to The Record, at least 600 shots were given Friday AM before supplies ran out. And an additional 150 when stock was replenished.B821841584Z.1_20150123191304_000_GGS1DL62B.2_Gallery

The shots are effective and reduce the risk of illnesses. Earlier this month, a similar exposure incident in New Jersey resulted in additional cases amongst folk who didn’t stand in line for shots.

“It’s unfortunate, really,” said Joanne Hall, a clerk of session at the St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church down the street from the restaurant. “It’s a business, and something like this is not something you ask for. It can happen anywhere. As a small community we will support them, and help them get back on their feet.”

Anyone who dined at Marj’s between Jan. 2 and Jan. 20—the period when there was the highest likelihood of infection— was advised to get vaccinated to prevent infection.

Marj’s was closed on Friday, but not due to a public health order. Health officials inspected the premises on Thursday and cleared it. The restaurant’s owner, Keith Mclean, was not immediately available for comment. There were a number of people in the back of the diner Friday who appeared to be readying it for business. 

John Goforth lives just around the corner from Marj’s and eats there occasionally. He has not dined there this month and is not getting the vaccination.

“It’s a really good place, with good people and good food,” he said. “There was nothing they could do about this (except require vaccinations for their staff? -ben), and I hope it doesn’t hurt them. It’s been there forever, and it’s a great place.” 

“I think it was just a fluke,” Arsene Pick said Friday after getting the shot. He lives in Elora and dines occasionally at Marj’s. “It was just one of the cooks there that caught it and nobody knew. I hope it doesn’t hurt their business.”

Sharon Grose was in the outside lineup Friday. She said Marj’s is legendary in Alma, and is frequented by people from all around the town, especially in the farming community, and by travellers on their way to cottages further north. 

“This is a small price to pay to make sure you’re safe,” she said, speaking of waiting in the lineup for the vaccine. She had been waiting for about 40 minutes. “I don’t think this will hurt Marj’s. I hope not. They have a solid record for good food. This is just a matter of people being cautious.” 

Canadians are so nice.

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About Ben Chapman

Dr. Ben Chapman is an associate professor and food safety extension specialist at North Carolina State University. As a teenager, a Saturday afternoon viewing of the classic cable movie, Outbreak, sparked his interest in pathogens and public health. With the goal of less foodborne illness, his group designs, implements, and evaluates food safety strategies, messages, and media from farm-to-fork. Through reality-based research, Chapman investigates behaviors and creates interventions aimed at amateur and professional food handlers, managers, and organizational decision-makers; the gate keepers of safe food. Ben co-hosts a biweekly podcast called Food Safety Talk and tries to further engage folks online through Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and, maybe not surprisingly, Pinterest. Follow on Twitter @benjaminchapman.