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Public health alert after Nanaimo, B.C., Superstore cashier gets hepatitis A

03/06/2015 07:09 EST | Updated 05/06/2015 05:59 EDT
NANAIMO, B.C. - Vaccinations are being offered to employees and some customers of a Nanaimo, B.C., grocery store after a cashier tested positive for hepatitis A.

Vancouver Island's health authority said shoppers at the city's Superstore location who purchased and ate raw produce or unwrapped foods on several dates in the past two weeks should get the vaccine as a precaution.

A drop-in immunization clinic for Superstore employees and eligible members of the public was scheduled for Saturday at a recreation centre. Those who can't attend should contact their local public health unit.

Hepatitis A is a virus that affects the liver and can be spread through close personal contact or contaminated food that has been handled by an infected person.

"We don't see many cases of hepatitis A on the Island and even fewer where the person works in a job with the potential to expose large numbers of people like this," Dr. Paul Hasselback, a medical health officer with Island Health, said in a statement.

"Both the individual and the Superstore facility have been co-operating fully to make sure the public is protected and we are grateful for their support."

Those dates of concern include the afternoon and evening of Feb. 25, 26 or 27; all day March 1; or the evening of March 4.

Island Health also said there's a "small risk" that people who ate unpackaged foods purchased on specific times on Feb. 5, 8, 12, 15 or 18 may have been exposed.

But immunization is not being offered to people who were at the store on those earlier dates, since the vaccine is only effective when given within 14 days of exposure.

The health authority said symptoms of hepatitis A include fever, tiredness, loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting and abdominal pain, followed a few days later by dark-coloured urine, light-coloured stools and jaundice.

Loblaws spokesman Kevin Groh said the company is fully co-operating and urges its colleagues and customers to review the available information.

"Public health officials have been very clear that there is no ongoing risk in our store and that we can conduct business as usual, safely welcoming customers," he said in an e-mailed statement.

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