The Gwinnett County Health department is asking anyone who ate at a Wendy’s located near Lawrenceville City Hall and Gwinnett County’s Lawrenceville tag office in late June to get tested for hepatitis A.
Health officials said an employee at the restaurant, which is located at 165 Scenic Highway in Lawrenceville, was recently diagnosed with hepatitis A. A health department investigation determined the employee was working while sick from the disease from June 13 to 29.
“It is relatively rare for restaurant patrons to become infected with hepatitis A virus due to an infected food handler,” county health officials said in a statement. “But anyone who consumed food or drink at the Wendy’s during the above dates should contact their health care provider or their local Health Department to determine if a hepatitis A immunization is needed to prevent the disease.”
There were lines to get vaccines at the health department Tuesday, but department spokesman Chad Wasdin said he could not confirm what the longest wait time was or how many people had come in to get the hepatitis A vaccine.
At this time of year, the health department sees several parents bringing their children in to get vaccinations required for school and that can be contributing to wait times, Wasdin said.
By early afternoon, there was a wait time of about 30 minutes to get vaccinations, Wasdin said.
Additional details about vaccine distribution were released Tuesday afternoon.
“Hepatitis A vaccines are available as a walk-in service Monday through Friday at all three Gwinnett County Health Department locations: Lawrenceville, Buford and Norcross,” Wasdin said.
“Wait times for services may vary by location due to the volume of people seeking the hepatitis A vaccine following potential exposure. Efforts are being made to decrease wait times for vaccine services at all locations.”
Wasdin said additional information about wait times at each location can be obtained by calling the locations. Contact information and hours of operation for each health department office is available at www.gnrhealth.com/locations.
Hepatitis A attacks a person’s liver, causing them to be sick for up to 50 days after they were exposed. Symptoms can include nausea, tiredness, fever, loss of appetite, stomach pain, brown-colored urine, light-colored stools and possible yellowing of the skin or eyes.
“Hepatitis A usually spreads when a person unknowingly ingests the virus from objects, food, or drinks contaminated by small, undetected amounts of stool from an infected person,” Gwinnett health officials said.
“The virus spreads when an infected person does not wash his/her hands adequately after using the toilet or engages in behaviors that increase risk of infection. The best way to prevent hepatitis A infection is to get vaccinated.”
Anyone who may have been exposed needs to be vaccinated within 14 days of the exposure. They can still get a vaccination if it has been more than 14 days since the exposure, but health officials warned the vaccine may not be able to prevent the person from developing the disease.
The Gwinnett County Health Department said a hepatitis A immunization is available for no out-of-pocket cost for anyone who thinks they may have been exposed.
The department also said the management at the Wendy’s quickly had employees who might have been exposed vaccinated. They also had the restaurant thoroughly cleaned and sanitized, and worked with the health department to get educational information on hepatitis A.
“We take the health and safety of our customers and team members very seriously and we have stringent procedures in place to ensure safe, sanitary and well-maintained restaurants,” said officials at Meritage Hospitality Group, the franchise group that owns the restaurant, in a statement released by the health department.
“We thank the Gwinnett County Health Department for their partnership in this matter. At this time, no additional illnesses have been reported and the restaurant is fully operational after passing an inspection.”
Customers who ate at the restaurant in late June, as well as employees who worked with the infected coworker, are asked to wash their hands with soap and water regularly, particularly after using the bathroom or before preparing food.
They are also asked to monitor their health for symptoms of hepatitis A that might develop over the next 50 days. If symptoms do emerge, they are asked to stay at home and call their doctor right away.
“If symptoms of illness develop, exposed contacts should seek hepatitis A (anti-HAV IgM) testing through their private medical provider and alert the provider of their exposure,” health officials said.
Anyone who has questions about the disease can call their local doctor or reach out to the epidemiologist on call at the Gwinnett County Health Department at 770-339-4260.