The Warren County Commission has signed an order requiring all food handlers to be vaccinated for hepatitis A. The order will take full effect later this year.
The move follows an outbreak in Franklin County, in which more than 60 people have been diagnosed with hepatitis A this year. Several of those diagnosed were restaurant employees, prompting Franklin County to begin requiring food handler vaccinations in July.
The Warren County Health Department in late August said thus far, no cases of hepatitis A had been detected on this side of the river. However, Health Department Administrator Ruth Walters said the county is being proactive in protecting the community.
“People infected with hepatitis A can pass the virus to others, as well as contaminate foods or beverages they handle, before they develop symptoms. Some infected people do not develop symptoms,” Walters explained. “These two facts make it even more important for food handlers to be vaccinated.”
Hepatitis A is a virus that affects the liver and can be spread through contaminated food or water, as well as contact with fecal matter or body fluid from an infected person.
The Warren County Commission’s order states that by Nov. 20, any person who prepares or handles food for public consumption, or works in areas where that food is served, must be vaccinated for hepatitis A. This includes all restaurants, school kitchens, food carts and caterers anywhere in Warren County.
After Nov. 20, new food service employees must be vaccinated within two weeks of being hired.
Walters said employers will be required to track the vaccination status of their employees. Those records will be inspected as part of the normal health inspections that the health department conducts at food service facilities.
The county commission’s order makes it a legal mandate for food handlers to comply with the vaccination directives. If they don’t, they could be subject to court action, according to the order.
There are a number of local health care providers that offer hepatitis A vaccinations, including the county health department, Walters said.
“We encourage those seeking hepatitis A vaccinations to call around to find the best option for them and to determine if they meet any eligibility requirements that may exist,” she added. Walters said many local pharmacies or other providers can bill insurance and offer vaccinations directly at various times of the day without appointments.
As far as paying for the vaccinations, Walters said that is left to individuals and their employers.
Anyone with questions about the new requirements can call the Warren County Health Department at 636-456-7474.