Hepatitis A – A Public Health Emergency: Employers Should Be Prepared
On August 1, 2019, Florida’s Surgeon General declared a Public Health Emergency to address the increase in Hepatitis A cases in Florida. From January 1 to July 27, 2019, there were two thousand and thirty-four (2,034) reported cases of Hepatitis A in Florida. That amount surpasses the number of cases reported for the entire year of 2018. Workers across various industries are not only at risk of contracting Hepatitis A, but also transmitting the virus to customers and/or co-workers. Before a worker is diagnosed, employers should be proactive and institute risk control and response measures.
Hepatitis A is a highly contagious disease that attacks the liver. Symptoms usually start within 28 days of exposure to the virus. People infected with Hepatitis A are most contagious from two weeks before onset of symptoms to one week afterwards. Of particular concern are food service workers; in Florida, approximately 5% of Hepatitis A cases have been identified as food service workers.
If a worker is diagnosed with Hepatitis A the health care provider that issued the diagnosis must immediately report to Florida’s Department of Health (“FDOH”) the name of the infected individual. The infected individual will be interviewed by FDOH, and then FDOH will work to identify close contacts of the ill person. Rest assured, this process includes the FDOH reaching out to the employer to ascertain if co-workers or customers will need to be notified of potential exposure.
Florida’s news media regularly reports the names and locations of business where infected individuals worked in the days prior to their diagnosis. Further, it is not uncommon to see social media posts about businesses with workers diagnosed with Hepatitis A. Therefore, employers should be ready to act with a communications plan in the event one of their workers is identified as having been diagnosed with Hepatitis A. Such a plan must consider the infected worker’s right to keep their health care information private. Often a quick and effective communication plan can minimize the potentially devastating consequences of being identified as an employer that has had workers diagnosed with the disease.
For more information of Hepatitis A and appropriate preventative measures see the Florida Health website.