Diners at North Carolina Waffle House may have caught hepatitis A virus, officials fear

Diners at a North Carolina Waffle House may have a sickening virus that was spread by an employee, health officials warned Friday night.

Anyone who dined at or ordered take-out from the Vinehaven Drive NE Waffle House off Copperfield Boulevard in Concord could have been exposed to hepatitis A, if they visited between 9 p.m. June 20 and 7 a.m. June 21, according to a Cabarrus Health Alliance news release. The alliance is the county’s health department.

The Waffle House is off Interstate 85 Exit 60.

Hepatitis A is “very contagious,” according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

A person can get hepatitis A by coming into close contact with an infected person or consuming food or drink the person handled, CDC officials said. Ingesting even microscopic amounts of the virus can sicken you with symptoms lasting up to two months, the CDC says.

Hepatitis A attacks the liver, officials said.

Symptoms include “fatigue, nausea, stomach pain, vomiting, fever, and possible jaundice,” according to the CDC. Jaundice is a yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes. Hepatitis A also produces dark urine, health officials said.

Anyone with symptoms should seek medical care, health officials urged.

Vaccination clinic

Cabarrus Health Alliance scheduled a hepatitis A vaccination clinic from noon to 2 p.m. Saturday, July 3, at 300 Mooresville Road in Kannapolis, with no appointment necessary and no insurance required, officials said. The hepatitis A vaccine also is available at local retail pharmacies, but you may be charged for it, according to the alliance.

The vaccine “is very effective” against the disease within 14 days of exposure, Health Alliance officials said.

“It’s extremely important that those who ate at the Waffle House on Vinehaven Drive on June 20 or June 21, 2021, receive their vaccination as soon as possible,” according to the Health Alliance release. “The time frame for the vaccine to be effective runs out within the next few days.”

Preventing hepatitis A

Restaurant employees and others can prevent the disease by “vigorously” washing their hands for at least 20 seconds, health officials said.. That includes the back of their hands and wrists, between their fingers and under their fingernails, officials said.

Anyone with questions can call Cabarrus Health Alliance staff at 704-920-1214.

Diners who visited the Waffle House between 9 p.m. and 12 a.m. June 20 should get vaccinated no later than Sunday, July 4, health officials said. Those who visited between 12 a.m. and 7 a.m. June 21 should receive the vaccine by Monday, July 5.

Any diner who previously had the hepatitis A infection or hepatitis A vaccine “are protected from the virus and do not need to take additional action,” according to the Health Alliance. “Most children receive hepatitis A as part of the recommended vaccine series.”

Statewide outbreak

In May, Gaston County reported “dramatic increases” in hepatitis A cases in recent months, related to an ongoing statewide outbreak, The Charlotte Observer previously reported.

From 2018 through last year, Gaston saw 33 local cases, according to the county health department. But in just the first three months of 2021, the county experienced at least 70 cases.

Most cases involved risk groups: people who use injection or non-injection drugs, people experiencing homelessness and men who have sex with men, health officials reported.

But “it only takes one person working in a restaurant or other public-facing industry to cause a large-scale community outbreak,” Ellen Wright, communicable disease supervisor for the Gaston County Health Department, said in a statement..