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Hepatitis A virus causes popular restaurant to shut down

by Tatiana Torres

Hamburger Mary’s, a popular spot in Ybor, has been shut down because an employee tested positive for the Hepatitis A virus.

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Hepatitis A is a highly contagious liver infection that can last from a few weeks to several months and is transmitted through food or drinks that are contaminated with trace amounts of stool from an infected person.

Reports of Hepatitis A have risen sharply in Hillsborough County this year with 37 reported cases so far, according to the Tampa Bay Times. Last year there were only 10, followed by five reports in 2016 and 2015.

“We are on track to report the highest number of Hepatitis A cases since 2005,” said Ulyee Choe, director of the Florida Department of Health in Pinellas County.

The Department of Health-Hillsborough spokesman Kevin Watler said that among other states, California, Michigan and Kentucky have also seen increases in hepatitis A cases. In Florida, he said that the Tampa Bay area and Central Florida have seen the largest increases.

“It’s not contained through one area and we’re not the only state seeing it,” says Watler. “There’s no real explanation at this stage to identify what’s going on.”

Antibodies produced in response to Hepatitis A infection can last more than 20 years and protect against reinfection. The best way to prevent hepatitis A infection is to get vaccinated.

Angela Fredrick, freshman biology major, says that she often gets tired of eating the same food on campus everyday. Therefore, she tries to go out to eat at restaurants that offer a variety of different foods.

“I think most college students can agree that the last thing we want is someone who is not keeping a good hygiene or looking out for their own health to be working in the food industry,” Fredrick said.

She also added that freshmen are required to have all their vaccines up to date, which should also be applied to everyone who is employed and come in contact with other people and food on a daily basis.

Hillsborough County still has plenty of free vaccines available at their Sulphur Springs clinic. The vaccines are specifically for people who ate or drank at Hamburger Mary’s between Oct. 4 and Oct. 20, or people who qualify for being at a higher risk. Pinellas County hopes to get another shipment of vaccines soon.

In addition to the vaccine, washing hands after a bathroom visit and after changing diapers lessens the chance that contamination will spread.

“A situation like this makes you think of all the people who do not have the financial means to get vaccinated,” said freshman biology major Paola Príncipe. “And [it] makes you wonder who are the people that are preparing the food we ingest. Hygiene is something that I personally consider to be fundamental in life and I truly expect that the person who is preparing food thinks the same way. Hygiene is crucial, especially when referring to food.”

Authorities are asking everyone to be on high alert and report any more cases to the Florida Department of Health. A 24-hour hotline has been set up for people with questions about Hepatitis A. The phone number is 813-307-8004.

Multiple attempts were made to contact representatives of Hamburger Mary’s Bar and Grille. There was no response.

Tatiana Torres can be reached at Tatiana.torres@spartans.ut.edu

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