11/9/2004

Contact: Kim Ens, Lawrence-Douglas County Health Department, (785) 843-0721; or Todd Cohen, University Relations, (785) 864-8858

GSP food service worker diagnosed with hepatitis A; risk very low for students

LAWRENCE – A food service employee at the Gertrude Sellards Pearson Residence Hall at the University of Kansas was diagnosed Monday, Nov. 8, with hepatitis A, university and public health officials announced today.

As a precautionary measure, the Lawrence-Douglas County Health Department gave the employee’s 17 full-time co-workers an immune gobulin (IG) injection last night. The hall food service’s 18 part-time student employees who had contact with the ill employee will be given the IG injection before they are allowed to return to work.

The county health department is confident that any risk of contracting hepatitis A by students who ate at the facilty is very low and that this will be an isolated case, said Kim Ens, county health department disease control program coordinator.

“ The risk is extremely low in this case," Ens said. "We always advise students to follow good hygiene practices and take the usual precautions, as they do to avoid the flu or any other illness: Wash hands frequently and stay well through good nutrition and enough sleep.”

The state Department of Health and Environment inspected the GSP dining facility Monday and found that all proper food-handling procedures were in place and followed by employees. Hand-washing and proper glove use by food workers usually prevents the transmission of the illness.

Hepatitis A, also called infectious hepatitis, is generally a mild illness that affects the liver. Symptoms include fatigue, fever, poor appetite, abdominal pain, diarrhea, dark urine and yellowing of the skin and eyes. The virus is found in the stools (feces) of infected people and is spread when people do not wash their hands after using the toilet or changing diapers, then touch their mouths or prepare foods for others with their hands.

A person with hepatitis A is most contagious two weeks before symptoms begin. The ill employee had been on sick leave for a week before being diagnosed yesterday. She remains on leave and is recovering, according to university officials.

For more information about hepatitis A, call the Lawrence-Douglas County Health Department, (785) 843-0721, or KU Student Health Services, (785) 864-9570.

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