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Health Agency Investigating Hepatitis Cases

March 31, 1993|WILLSON CUMMER | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

FULLERTON — Two workers in the meat department at Smith's Food and Drug Center on Orangethorpe Avenue have hepatitis, but there is no health risk to the public, according to an ongoing investigation by the Orange County Health Care Agency.

The two workers have been taken off the job, along with three other workers who are being tested for infectious hepatitis, according to Rick Greenwood, deputy director of public health.

Greenwood, who is leading the investigation, said he is not sure what caused the outbreak, but said a sixth worker fell sick at the store from hepatitis about a month ago. The county investigated that case, and found no public health risk, he said.

The virus found in the workers--hepatitis A--initially causes fatigue and fever, he said. After a few days, victims usually develop jaundice, a yellowing of the eyes and skin. The disease affects the liver.

Gamma globulin, a serum, can prevent hepatitis A if given soon after the person is infected.

The current investigation began Monday after Smith's called the agency, saying a worker had the symptoms of hepatitis, Greenwood said. The agency investigates every known case of hepatitis in the county, and doctors and clinics are required to report cases.

The infected workers package raw beef, chicken and fish for the market, and have probably not spread the virus to the public, Greenwood said.

"They have excellent hand-washing procedures and wear gloves when working," he said. "We have not seen any cases of hepatitis in the community related to this market."

He noted that cooking meat kills the hepatitis virus.

Shelley Thomas, a spokeswoman for Smith's, confirmed that a worker became sick about a month ago. He was placed on sick leave, where he remains, she said. The store then asked the county whether to inoculate all its meat workers with gamma globulin, she said, and was told that was not necessary.

Greenwood said he told people in the store that if they felt it was necessary to use gamma globulin, they could use their own doctors.

All the raw meat in the store was removed Monday and buried, as a precaution, Thomas said. The back of the store was also thoroughly disinfected, she said.

"There is no risk to customers coming into the store," Thomas said.

The county is interviewing workers at the store to determine the source of infection, Greenwood said, and is checking with the public health officials in Los Angeles County, where the first worker lives.

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