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Immunizations Not Best Response

Sat., Feb. 21, 1998

The word “hepatitis” in headline print is alarming. Certainly, we should be concerned. Hepatitis A is a highly contagious and serious infection. Since the virus is spread through fecal-oral contact, most of us probably don’t think we will get it.

But since the first of the year, five food handlers have tested positive for hepatitis A. News stories have revolved around the potential exposure for tens of thousands of their customers and how to stop the spread. The entire community became wary about the food at area restaurants.

But wait. According to the Spokane County Health District, not one of these infected workers has passed the disease to a customer.

Why is that? Was it the immune globulin shots? That might have helped, but many times more people were exposed than received shots.

Was it the vaccine? Vaccinations will help in future outbreaks, but it couldn’t protect those already exposed.

No, the single, most effective weapon against the spread of hepatitis A from food workers in the recent outbreak has been safe food handling practices.

The rules are detailed but the theory is simple. Keep food preparation and serving areas clean. Wash your hands frequently and thoroughly - especially after a trip to the restroom. Handle food according to guidelines, such as keeping hot foods hot, cold foods cold. Do all this and it’s almost impossible to spread infection and disease.

These regulations, enforced by the county, seem niggling at times but they work. They are relatively inexpensive to implement and are very effective against hepatitis A and a host of other food-borne infections, from e. coli to salmonella.

Of 102 individuals with hepatitis A so far this year, only five were food handlers. The truth is, you are far more likely to contract hepatitis A from somewhere other than a restaurant or a supermarket. The larger sources for this outbreak involved personal lifestyles.

The county health district has asked Gov. Gary Locke for $900,000 to buy hepatitis A vaccine. How about an all-out education campaign instead? If people can be trained to wear seat belts, they can certainly learn good personal and kitchen hygiene. The cost would be minimal compared to widespread immunization and the protection would extend beyond hepatitis A to other diseases.

The food industry has proven good hygiene works.

, DataTimes The following fields overflowed: CREDIT = John Kafentzis/For the editorial board


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