Public health alert should be kept in perspective

The most important line in the media release read: “There is no ongoing risk to customers of this restaurant"

People get sick all the time. When a person who handles food gets sick, however, it can result in consequences far beyond those justified by the situation.

For those who missed it, on Dec. 23, Interior Health issued a public health alert regarding Clearwater Dairy Queen. One of the staff had been clinically diagnosed with Hepatitis A. People who had eaten at the restaurant during the times when that person had been working were advised to go to the hospital and be immunized.

The Times published the media release on its website, as did several other news outlets. The story got provincewide attention.

The media release was quite lengthy but the most important line likely was the one at the end. It read, “There is no ongoing risk to customers of this restaurant.”

That line might have been there but that didn’t stop people I know who were visiting Clearwater from the Lower Mainland receiving a phone call from other people in the Lower Mainland telling them to avoid eating at Dairy Queen while they were here.

Interior Health also said in its media release that Clearwater Dairy Queen has been fully cooperative and that environmental health officers would work with the operator to ensure full cleaning and disinfection procedures have been completed.

According to a restaurant spokesperson, the person with Hepatitis A did not catch it at the restaurant. The person worked at the front counter and so would not normally have been directly handling food. There are no known cases of anyone catching Hepatitis A while at the restaurant.

The staff has a normal clean-up routine that is quite strict and, with this latest situation, has doubled down on its efforts.

Anyone who visits the restaurant can see that it is designed with cleanliness in mind, with plenty of stainless steel, formica and other easily cleaned surfaces.

Issuing a public health alert because someone working at a restaurant became ill is not an everyday thing but neither is it that uncommon.

With people travelling more and with health officials getting more sophisticated screening mechanisms and better vaccines, we can expect to see more of them.

We need to keep this particular situation in its proper perspective, learn from it, and then move on.

For those who missed it, the public health alert advised those who went to the restaurant between Dec. 8 and 18 to get immunized. However, the vaccine needs to be administered during a 14-day window after exposure, and that window will nearly have closed by the time you read this.

In that case, Interior Health advises that you watch for signs and symptoms of Hepatitis A. If these occur, see your family physician for testing.

Symptoms usually develop 15 to 50 days after exposure and include nausea, abdominal cramps, fever, dark urine, and/or yellowing of the skin and eyes (jaundice). Illness can be more severe in adults over 50 years of age or those with chronic liver disease.

The illness can last for several weeks and people generally recover completely. If you have symptoms, stay home from school and/or work.

Hepatitis A is a disease that affects the liver and is caused by the Hepatitis A virus. The virus is found in the bowel movements (stool) of infected people. It can be spread through close personal contact or through contaminated food that has been handled by an infected person.

Frequent hand washing, especially after using the toilet and before handling food, remains the most effective way to avoid the spread of Hepatitis A infections.