WEST JORDAN – Health workers in Salt Lake County were busy answering calls Monday after warning people over the weekend that about 2,000 recent 7-Eleven customers may be at risk of contracting the virus Hepatitis A.
"We have nine call takers … in our call center, and the phones are constantly busy," said Nicholas Rupp, a spokesman for the Salt Lake County Health Department. "The phones have not stopped"
"The message came out, which we appreciate."
At 1 pm, 256 people who had called had been "referred for a vaccine because they had an exposure that we" considered risky, "said Rupp, He did not have a final tally of the people who called during the rest of the day.
The county issued an alert on Sunday saying that a 7-Eleven employee who was ill with the virus recently worked at the chain's location in West Jordan, 2666 W 7800 South.
The county recommends a vaccine against Hepatitis A for customers who visited that store between December 26 and January 3 to use the bathroom or to buy fountain drinks, self-service beverages or hot foods such as chicken wings, hot dogs, pizza and taquitos.
"That's the people we want to call so we can ask them some questions, get their contact information and make sure they know where they can get the hepatitis A vaccine, so they can they can protect themselves, "Rupp told Deseret News.
"We are aware that this infected person was handling food," he added.
Rupp also warned on Monday that the preventive vaccine is only effective to prevent the virus for up to about two weeks after a person contracts hepatitis A, so those who have been exposed to the virus on December 26, "just They have until (Tuesday) to get it. "
But those who bought cakes or pre-packaged foods at that 7-Eleven, or simply went to buy gas, are not believed to be at risk, according to Rupp.
County health officials believe that approximately 2,000 clients may have been exposed to the virus, according to store traffic estimates. Anyone who believes they may be at risk is asked to call the county at 385-468-4636 for instructions.
In a statement, 7-Eleven said that the store manager took action immediately after learning that a worker had hepatitis A.
"As soon as the franchisee was notified of the store associate's illness, he began to disinfect the store and destroyed any item the store employee touched," the company said.
"The health department has returned to the store because it was disinfected and it authorizes us to operate normally, and the associate of the affected store will not be able to return to work until it is authorized by a doctor," the statement says. "As a precautionary measure, the health department also administered the hepatitis A vaccine to all store associates who work in this store."
Rupp also confirmed that "there is no reason" to avoid visiting the store.
Other employees have been vaccinated. We did it all last week, "he said." (The store) disinfected, all according to our specifications. "
The store was not required to temporarily shut down.
Rupp said" the regulation of food service requires … that anyone who is ill with (a) variety of diseases … is prevented from working in a food service establishment. "
" This person will have to be completely better, "he said, before he or she is authorized to return to work.
He added that the incident is a good reminder to all companies that serve prepared food that employees they should stay home if they have a contagious disease, particularly any condition that causes nausea, vomiting or diarrhea.
Rupp said that the employee's infection is believed to be related to an unusual hepatitis A outbreak that has resulted in 93 confirmed cases in Salt Lake County since May.
"We believe that the infected person who was working in the store was in contact with a person in the high-risk population," he said.  Utah residents who are in greater Risk of hepatitis A infection are those who are homeless, consume recreational drugs or are incarcerated, health officials said in recent months. The state and county governments of Salt Lake warned in late November that without proper preventive measures, infections may also spread to other groups.
Jeffrey Eason, a viral hepatitis epidemiologist for the Utah Department of Health, said that 133 confirmed outbreaks have been reported in the state since May 8, 2017 , with another 12 to 15 additional potential cases that are still being investigated. That's compared to just a handful of such cases in most years across the state, including an average of only four per year in Salt Lake County.
The Utah outbreak has caused 68 hospitalizations. All but 13 of the total state cases have been reported in Salt Lake County or Utah County.
"The outbreak is ongoing, we still get cases every week, and although we have not seen large peaks in the cases, the average number of cases reported each week continues," Eason told Deseret News. "We have not seen a big decrease."
Eason said he is closely monitoring any signs that hepatitis A cases may be migrating to different population groups.
"We may look for new ways or new groups of people that the disease may be affecting," he said. "Currently that has remained low."
Eason believes that the outbreak could be much worse if it were not for the vigorous campaigns of local health departments to bring vaccines to at-risk groups, and actively promoting proper hand hygiene before preparing or eating food and after using the bathroom.
"If our local health jurisdictions were not working with members of our community, we would see double or triple cases, maybe even more," Eason said. .
Last month, Intermountain Healthcare donated $ 248,000 to the Utah Department of Health for the purchase of nearly 9,000 hepatitis A vaccine kits, to add to the more than 7,000 doses of vaccines that had been administered by community workers. health until the end of November.  In Salt Lake County, officials say, those employees have been performing vaccinations where there are a large number of homeless or drug users, such as several places along the Jordan River, in shelters, in d centers of carpet treatment and in Pioneer Park.
Rupp said it is difficult to know when the outbreak of hepatitis A will have peaked, as it can take up to seven weeks for the symptoms to become apparent.
"It can be almost two months" before someone who has just been infected shows symptoms, "he said." That's why we see a first round … of people who are infected, and then (because) they do not know they are infected, but they transmit it … we get that second wave, "he said.
Despite that uncertainty, Eason is optimistic that things can change in early 2018.
" We really have a lot of efforts to vaccination, as well as greater public awareness, and as long as we continue these efforts at the pace we are, I am very hopeful that we will begin to see a decrease in the coming months, "he said.
According to the Mayo Clinic, hepatitis A is an inflammation of the liver that is associated with several serious symptoms that include fatigue, sudden vomiting or nausea, clay-colored stools, dark urine, severe itching, jaundice, and pain in the stomach and joints.
The virus can go from person to person through small traces of stool from someone who is infected, making them vulnerable to being spread through contaminated food and beverages. It can also be shared by sexual contact.
It has been shown that a two-shot hepatitis A vaccine is more than 99 percent effective in preventing the disease for approximately 20 to 25 years. , but it has only been required for Utah students entering kindergarten since 2002, Rupp has said previously.
Hepatitis A can finally prove fatal in some cases. In the San Diego area, 683 confirmed cases related to outbreaks have caused 21 deaths until December 29, according to data kept by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Health officials in Salt Lake County noticed in September that the strain of the virus in and around San Diego turned out to be the same one that causes so much trouble in Utah.