WASHINGTON – Maryland health officials said “all of Maryland should be aware of” an outbreak of hepatitis A in Southern Maryland and take precautions against it.
But residents should not be overly concerned that the outbreak might spread across the state, said David Blythe of the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.
Officials in Calvert and St. Mary’s counties are trying to sort through at least 20 confirmed cases of hepatitis A between the two counties.
It is so early in the investigation that it is hard to even tell which cases belong with what county, said Mary Novotny of the St. Mary’s County Health Department.
“We’re still gathering data,” she said. “We just haven’t had enough people to split it up.”
Novotny said it is the largest hepatitis outbreak the county has ever had. And the numbers could continue to climb.
Officials can trace the outbreak through three restaurants: Catamarans of Solomons, in Calvert County, and two St. Mary’s County restaurants, Northridge in California, Md., and the Roost in Lexington Park. A food service worker at each restaurant has tested positive for hepatitis A.
“We still don’t know the source,” said Novotny, adding that what at first appears to be the cause of an outbreak may not always turn out to be true.
Susan Ratterree of the Calvert County Health Department agrees.
“With the investigation still ongoing, I think it’s premature to come to any conclusion,” she said.
The Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene issued a specific alert yesterday for anyone who dined or drank at Catamarans between Sept. 1 and Sept. 4. The health department said those people should contact their physician or local health department for an immune globulin shot.
People who do not get the shot by Monday will have a greater risk of becoming ill if they were exposed.
“We’re still in a window where there is an effective therapy,” said Blythe. “That’s why we want to get the word out now.”
Individuals who have eaten at the St. Mary’s County restaurants within the last two to three weeks should also contact their doctor or local health department for evaluation. Novotny said her department is not recommending immune globulin for people who ate at the Roost or Northridge. It may be too late, she said.
Hepatitis A can be spread through food handled by an individual with the virus as well as through personal contact. Symptoms of hepatitis A infection include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, a yellow discoloration of the skin or eyes, and abdominal pain.
It usually takes two to three weeks after exposure for symptoms to develop.
Health officials recommend proper precautions such as frequent hand- washing, especially for food service workers.