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Should Florida require food workers to get hepatitis A vaccines and tests?

Some bay area doctors pushing for change
Posted: 3:55 PM, May 01, 2019
Updated: 2019-05-03 21:19:46Z
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PINELLAS COUNTY, Fla. -- Yet another Tampa Bay restaurant has uncovered an employee with hepatitis A.

Ferg's Sports Bar and Grill in St. Petesburg says a former dishwasher had the virus while working at the popular restaurant. Florida is seeing an alarming spike in the number of hepatitis A cases and now some people are pushing for change.

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Florida does not require food workers to get tested or be vaccinated for hepatitis A. In fact, only a few cities and counties across the country require food workers to get the hepatitis A shot.

One St. Pete doctor, who specializes in Hepatitis cases, says these recent hepatitis A cases should be a wake-up call for Florida leaders.

“Now that we are seeing this outbreak again, we’ve brought it to the surface, and we can get these people vaccinated and prevent these things from happening,” explained Dr. Bob Wallace.

In the past, the CDC has not specifically recommended hepatitis A vaccinations for food service workers because outbreaks are rare and food workers are not at an increased risk of infection because of their jobs.

However, symptoms can take up to 15 days after the initial exposure occurs, so sometimes food handlers don't feel ill during the peak time of infection.

The best way to prevent hepatitis A infection is to get vaccinated. The vaccine — which is recommended in two doses, six months apart — provides lifetime protection against the virus. Doctors say the shot is 95 percent effective and works within just a few days after a person receives a vaccine.

Florida has seen 954 cases of the contagious liver disease in 2019 alone, with seven months left in the calendar year. In all of 2018, there were 549 cases and 276 cases in 2017.

Pinellas County is leading the state with the number of cases, followed by Pasco County. Hillsborough County comes in third for the most cases statewide.

ABC Action News contacted the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation and the Florida Department of Health to see if they’ll make changes requiring vaccines and tests for food workers. Both groups tell ABC Action News it will be up to state legislators to make a change. Current laws only require Hep A vaccines for workers in hospitals, nursing homes and schools.