Hepatitis A and the risk of infection to food industry employees

If you work in the food service industry, you may think that your biggest risk of injury comes from a slip and fall while carrying a heavy tray or some sort of injury in the kitchen.

In fact, the biggest risk you face could be on your co-workers’ hands — especially if one or more of your co-workers isn’t exactly prudent about washing those hands after using the bathroom.

Hepatitis A is considered one of the top 5 viruses that can be passed through food. While the news media tends to focus on infected consumers, food service employees can also easily become infected.

It isn’t uncommon for employees in the food industry to eat the same food their customers eat — which means that a cook who has Hepatitis A can pass the virus along to any number of his or her co-workers. A bartender with the virus who pours a nightcap for everyone after they close out their shift could do the same. A server with the virus who splits a burger or a salad with a co-worker on their shared break can also unknowingly spread the disease.

Hepatitis A can result in jaundice, a condition which can make someone’s skin and the whites of their eyes appear yellow. Other common symptoms include fatigue, unexplained weight loss, vomiting, dark urine, grey stools and joint pain. In rare cases, the virus can also lead to liver disease and death.

However, symptoms don’t usually appear until 2-6 weeks after the initial infection. That means the disease can be spread from even apparently healthy co-workers. If you do get infected, you can expect the symptoms of the infection to last anywhere from 2-6 months — which is a long time to be unable to work without some form of compensation.

Under workers’ compensation, illnesses that you contract through the workplace are eligible for compensation. You may have to prove that you did, in fact, contract the virus through exposure in the workplace. That may not be difficult, however, if some customers also became ill or other co-workers found out that they also have the virus.

If you contracted Hepatitis A at your workplace, but workers’ compensation doesn’t want to recognize it as an occupational disease, consider contacting an attorney for help.

Source: www.cdc.gov, “Hepatitis A,” accessed May 25, 2017

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