Hepatitis A at Newmarket, Ontario Tim Hortons

The Toronto Star reports that a health alert was issued today after it was discovered that two employees of a Newmarket Tim Hortons were found infected with Hepatitis A.

York Region Public Health was notified of a case of hepatitis A at the Tim Hortons at 16545 Yonge St., near Savage Rd., on April 21. Following the initial investigation, it was decided the risk to customers was very low based on the employee’s position.

"He was not involved in food handling," said York Region medical officer of health Dr. Karim Kurji. "Given that, we didn’t feel the need to notify the public."

Oops, because…

The next day investigators conducted routine tests and offered immunization to workers. These tests revealed a second case, which was discovered on April 24. It was decided the risk of contamination to the public in this case was higher.

"The overall assessment when investigating the risk with the second case was the employee was handling food," said Kurji. "It was prudent for us to reach out to public and take necessary precautions.

York Region Public Health is holding a vaccine clinic Monday from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. in the auditorium of the Newmarket Health Centre. People who ate food from this Tim Hortons between April 13 and April 22 are eligible for the vaccine. However, anyone who ate there between April 2 and April 22 could be infected.

Hep A happens a lot, but the way this one has been handled raises a few questions for me:

I wonder why the folks who ate at the Hortons before April 13th are excluded from eligibility from the vaccine? Does someone need to prove (with a receipt?) that they ate there between April 13 and 22nd? Who bears the cost if someone wants to get an IGG shot and is excluded? What happens if that individual gets sick?

This week’s food safety infosheet was about Hep A in a produce handler in Colorado.

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About Ben Chapman

Dr. Ben Chapman is a 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.