Hepatitis A is affecting people in several states across the country, including Alabama, Arizona, Florida, Indiana, South Carolina, and West Virginia, among others. Health officials are advising people, including business owners, like restaurateurs, to be aware of the virus and its symptoms, and take precautions to prevent outbreaks.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says 22 states have reported outbreaks since 2016, affecting nearly 20,000 people.

The National Restaurant Association is providing some frequently asked questions and answers that may help educate restaurant operators and employees about hepatitis A. Here is some of what you need to know:

What is hepatitis A?
The virus is an infection of the liver, and it can range from a mild illness lasting a few weeks to something more severe that lingers over several months. Symptoms include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, belly pain and yellowing of the eyes and skin. People usually become ill within two to six weeks after exposure and are advised to seek medical treatment if symptoms develop. However, it is not a lifelong infection, like other forms of hepatitis, and there is a vaccination to prevent it.

How does the virus spread?
Hepatitis A typically spreads when someone ingests something contaminated by the human waste of someone with the virus, especially where poor sanitary conditions exist or good personal hygiene does not. The CDC also says the virus is more apt to spread from person to person by those who use injection and non-injection drugs.

What should an operator or manager do if an employee tests positive?
If one of your employees tests positive for hepatitis A, act quickly to reduce the virus’s spread and impact. As soon as you learn of a diagnosis, contact your local health department and receive proper protocols for response.

What can restaurant employees do to prevent the virus from spreading?
Vito Palazzolo, one of the Association’s food safety experts, suggests the following steps to help prevent the spread of hepatitis A:

  • Wash hands frequently with soap and warm water after using the bathroom, taking breaks, or before preparing food.
  • Avoid bare-hand contact with ready-to-eat food. Wear proper gloves.
  • If an employee is sick, they should not come to work.

What should restaurant operators and managers do?

Here are three more quick tips from Palazzolo:

  • Encourage employees to get vaccinated. The vaccination is safe, effective, and administered in two doses six months apart.
  • Monitor employees for symptoms. Be aware of whether your employees are showing any signs or symptoms of the infection.
  • Educate your staff. Discuss with your staff what hepatitis A is and what the symptoms consist of.