Health Care

Customers may have been exposed to hepatitis at Harbison-area restaurant, SC officials say

Customers who have recently dined at a popular Harbison-area restaurant might have been exposed to the hepatitis A virus, South Carolina health officials said Tuesday.

People who dined at the Lexington County Wild Wing Cafe location could have been exposed to the virus after an employee tested positive for hepatitis A, the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) said in a news release.

The restaurant is at 1150 Bower Parkway in the Columbiana Station retail shopping complex.

Anyone who ate at the Lexington County Wild Wing Cafe between May 1 and May 15 “could have been exposed to the virus,” according to the news release.

DHEC said it learned an employee tested positive for hepatitis A on May 17 and began investigating possible exposures. Health officials said that the “illness is not a foodborne outbreak,” according to the news release.

“The risk of the hepatitis A virus spreading from an infected employee to customers in a restaurant setting is low,” Dr. Linda Bell, MD and state epidemiologist said in the news release. “The concern here is not the restaurant. It is with a food handler who has hepatitis A infection. The restaurant received an A rating from DHEC at the last inspection conducted on Feb. 5, 2019.

Symptoms of infection include “nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, belly pain or yellowing of the eyes and skin,” and those suffering from the virus “usually become sick within two to six weeks after being exposed,” DHEC said in the release.

DHEC did offer guidance for anyone who might have been exposed to the virus.

“As a precaution, in these situations, vaccination should be considered for individuals who were exposed during the time the food handler was contagious,” Bell said in the news release.

For those who have not already been vaccinated, it should be considered for anyone potentially exposed “within two weeks from their date of consuming anything from the restaurant,” DHEC said in the news release.

DHEC recommends anyone who ate at the restaurant during the exposure timeframe should also contact a doctor or pharmacy about treatment, according to the news release.

It also said that those who were potentially exposed can visit the Lexington County Health Department, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Wednesday through Friday, and no appointment is required, per the news release.

According to DHEC, “hepatitis A is a contagious liver disease caused by the hepatitis A virus. Most people who get hepatitis A feel sick for several weeks, but they usually recover completely and do not have lasting liver damage.”

A statewide hepatitis A outbreak was issued on May 13 by DHEC, as the number of reported cases from last November to May 17 (91) has quadrupled from the “number of cases (19) typically seen in a year in South Carolina,” according to the news release.

DHEC declared a statewide hepatitis A outbreak on May 13, based on a steady increase in the number of cases, as 91 cases have been reported since last November. That is more than four times the typical amount of cases reported in a year, according to the news release.

“Most transmission in the United States is through person-to-person contact,” Bell said, according to The State. “Good hygiene — diligently washing your hands — is a good way to prevent hepatitis A, as well as not sharing personal items.”

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Noah Feit is a Real Time reporter with The State and McClatchy Carolinas Regional Team. The award-winning journalist has worked for multiple newspapers since starting his career in 1999.