Sick man looking in a mirror has yellowish eyes as sign of possible liver infection or other disease.

Media outlets in towns large and small across America are reporting an increasing number of hepatitis A virus cases and outbreaks – mostly among at-risk groups, such as people experiencing homelessness or people who use drugs. Florida recently declared a public health emergency in response to an increase in hepatitis A virus cases in their state, as did the city of Philadelphia. Overall, since the current outbreaks across the U.S. were first identified in 2016, there has been nearly 24,000 cases reported across 29 states, with 60 percent hospitalized and more than 230 deaths, as of Aug. 15.

As a person infected with hepatitis A is contagious two weeks before showing symptoms, and not everyone infected by the virus will have symptoms. Those in foodservice must be especially aware of this.

"Foodservice locations in areas that are experiencing a hepatitis A virus outbreak should review their food safety plan and follow established procedures set for foodborne pathogens," says Chip Manuel, Ph.D., food safety science advisor at GOJO in a press release. "Don't risk your businesses reputation or the health of your customers and workers. Restaurant operators and managers should educate their staff about the virus and its' symptoms, emphasize good hygiene practices, be vigilant about safe food handling practices, and if budget allows, consider administering a vaccine campaign. Additionally, as per the FDA Food Code, infected food handlers should be excluded from duties that involve contact with food for at least 1-2 weeks after the onset of jaundice or until symptoms resolve."

There are several ways to mitigate the risk of a hepatitis A outbreak from starting. The best way to reduce the spread of the virus is to get vaccinated. However, the CDC says on its website that not everyone is recommended to receive the shot — even if they’re traveling to a U.S. state where an outbreak has occurred. Only those who are at risk of infection should receive the vaccine.

More practical steps to staying safe are to disinfect frequently touched surfaces and practice good hand hygiene. 

As it relates to disinfection, GOJO recommends that high touch surfaces be cleaned with EPA-approved products that demonstrate hepatitis A virus efficacy. 

Hand washing should occur after every restroom use or changing of a diaper, and before eating or preparing food. Hands should be washed with soap and water for 20 seconds, with each part of the hand receiving treatment.

In addition to GOJO’s recommendations, here are some other guidelines to help reduce the spread of Hepatitis A in the workplace via the State of California Department of Industrial Relations.