California’s hepatitis A outbreak is on the verge of reaching statewide epidemic status, according to news outlets.
Over the last 11 months — following the San Diego County outbreak that was first identified in November — cases have migrated north to Los Angeles, Santa Cruz, San Francisco and Sacramento. California health officials have reported that since November, at least 569 people have been infected with the hepatitis A liver disease and 17 have died.
And now, Cal/OSHA is encouraging employers and workers at risk of exposure to the hepatitis A virus to take measures that will prevent exposure and reduce spread of the virus.
Hepatitis A is a highly contagious liver disease. It can range from a mild illness that lasts a few weeks to a severe illness that can last several months and, as seen in California, can lead to death in some cases.
Signs and symptoms typically don’t appear until a few weeks after infection, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and may include fatigue, nausea and vomiting, abdominal pain, loss of appetite, a low-grade fever, joint pain, and jaundice. However, not everyone with hepatitis A develops signs or symptoms.
Workers can be exposed to the hepatitis A virus after coming into contact with objects, food or drinks contaminated by an infected person. In areas where there is an outbreak, those who work with homeless persons or illicit drug users in settings such as health care, public safety, janitorial, homeless services and substance use treatment have an increased risk of exposure to hepatitis A.
All employers have an ongoing duty to provide a safe and healthful workplace. “Employers must take steps to prevent or reduce the spread of the hepatitis A virus,” said Cal/OSHA Chief Juliann Sum in a news release. “Preventive measures are essential to protecting workers at risk of exposure.”
Measures that can help reduce the spread of hepatitis A in the workplace include:
- Maintaining a clean and sanitary work area;
- Providing handwashing facilities;
- Providing protective equipment to those who may come into contact with hazardous materials; and
- Training at-risk employees on the new hazard and how to prevent infection with, and transmission of, hepatitis A.