People who had drinks or doughnuts at a Spokane Valley supermarket in the past month might have been exposed to hepatitis A. A bakery worker at the U-City Rosauers store, 10920 E. Sprague, is the latest in a string of Spokane and North Idaho food-service workers to test positive for the virus during the hepatitis A epidemic.
People who drank iced beverages or got ice from the drink dispenser near the deli from Jan. 22 through Feb. 5 may have been exposed.
Customers who ate maple bars, raised doughnuts or bars with chocolate icing between those dates also may have been exposed.
The Spokane Regional Health District is recommending immuneglobulin shots for people exposed from Feb. 3 through Feb. 5. Immune globulin can prevent hepatitis A if given within 14 days of exposure.
People exposed earlier should wash their hands often. If they develop flulike symptoms, they should talk to their doctors and mention the exposure.
The health district, 1101 W. College, will be open for shots from 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. today , Wednesday and Thursday. Rosauers will pay for customers to get the shots, which cost from $19 to $30 each.
“The risk is minimal,” said Larry Geller, president of Rosauers, which has 18 stores in the Northwest. “We do practice what we consider to be the highest standards for the industry.”
Geller said several hundred people at most were exposed to the virus.
But Health Officer Dr. Kim Thorburn said 240 donuts are made every day at the store, and most are sold.
Thorburn said the health district has 1,000 shots of immune globulin, which should cover this exposure. A national shortage of the medicine has sent the health district scrambling for any available.
All employees in the U-City store will receive either immune-globulin shots or hepatitis A vaccinations, said Larry Geller, president of Rosauers. He said the corporation would consider vaccinating employees at all its stores once this crisis is handled.
“There’s millions of things to immunize against, although this seems to be more prevalent,” Geller said.
The bakery employee went on vacation Feb. 4 and got sick several days ago, Geller said.
Hepatitis A is a viral, flu-like infection spread most often by eating contaminated food. The disease incubates from two to seven weeks before people start getting symptoms, including fever, nausea and jaundice.
To prevent the spread of the disease, people should wash their hands after going to the bathroom and before preparing or handling food.
At least 85 people have tested positive for hepatitis A in Spokane County since the beginning of the year, including three food workers at Players and Spectators restaurant. A food worker at the Riverbend Grill in Post Falls also got hepatitis A.
Health Officer Dr. Kim Thorburn said an epidemiologist from Washington, D.C., visited the district Friday. He said the community has probably reached the high point of its hepatitis A outbreak, at 50 cases a month.
At that rate, a restaurant food handler will probably come down with hepatitis A every two months, Thorburn said.
She again recommended that restaurants get their workers vaccinated, which runs $84 for two shots a person. So far, almost 100 restaurants have vaccinated their workers.
“It’s an insurance premium,” Thorburn said.