Customers who ate at Zaxby’s at 4845 Tanger Outlet Blvd., in North Charleston might have been exposed to the hepatitis A virus, the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control announced on June 3.

DHEC was notified on May 31, 2019, that an employee of the restaurant tested positive for hepatitis A. Customers who ate there between May 20 and May 23, 2019, could have been exposed to the virus. DHEC is working with Zaxby’s to investigate possible exposures and provide guidance for preventive treatment for anyone who may be affected.

This illness is not a foodborne outbreak.

“The concern here is not the restaurant. It is with a food handler who has hepatitis A infection,” said Dr. Linda Bell, MD and state epidemiologist. The risk of the hepatitis A virus spreading from an infected employee to customers in a restaurant setting is low, Dr. Bell said. The restaurant received an A rating from DHEC at the last inspection conducted on March 7, 2019.

“As a precaution, in these situations, vaccination should be considered for individuals who were exposed during the time the food handler was contagious,” Dr. Bell said.

Post-exposure vaccination should be considered for individuals who have not been vaccinated if it can be given within two weeks from their date of consuming anything from the restaurant. People who ate food prepared at the restaurant between May 21 and May 23, 2019, may contact their medical provider or pharmacy about post exposure treatment. In South Carolina, adults 18 years and older can get vaccinated at some local pharmacies without a prescription, depending on your insurance coverage.

Restaurant patrons who were potentially exposed also can visit the Northwoods Public Health Clinic at 2070 Northbrook Boulevard, Suite #A20, in North Charleston from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday (June 4), Wednesday (June 5) and Thursday (June 6). No appointment is necessary.

The vaccine is not shown to prevent infection when administered more than 14 days after a specific exposure. However, vaccination more than 14 days after exposure will give long-lasting protection from infection from future exposures.

As of today, customers and staff who ate at the restaurant on May 20 are not likely to benefit from post-exposure treatment. Anyone who ate at the restaurant between these dates should watch for symptoms of infection, such as nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, belly pain or yellowing of the eyes and skin. People usually become sick within two to six weeks after being exposed to the virus. Seek medical care if symptoms develop.

Hepatitis A is a contagious liver disease caused by the hepatitis A virus. Most people who get hepatitis A feel sick for several weeks, but they usually recover completely and do not have lasting liver damage. People usually become sick within two to six weeks after being exposed to the virus. Symptoms of infection include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, belly pain or yellowing of the eyes and skin.

Certain individuals are at greater risk for severe hepatitis A infection and are encouraged to seek vaccination. Those individuals include anyone with a weakened immune system, liver disease (such as hepatitis B or C) or anyone who abuses injection or non-injection drugs.

DHEC declared a statewide hepatitis A outbreak on May 13, based on a steady increase in the number of cases. Between Nov. 1, 2018, and May 31, 2019, 121 hepatitis A cases have been reported. That is more than five times the number of cases (19) typically seen in a year in South Carolina.

If patrons of the restaurant have questions or concerns, they may contact DHEC’s Careline at 1-855-4SC-DHEC (1-855-472-3432). Careline staff will be available Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. until 6 p.m. to answer your questions. For more information on hepatitis A, visit the DHEC website or the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website.

In a continuing effort to provide the public vital information about the spread of hepatitis A in South Carolina in the most efficient and appropriate manner, DHEC will begin reporting cases involving potential exposures at restaurants on our agency website. This most recent case, as well as previous and all future cases, will be found on our Hepatitis A Outbreak page at scdhec.gov/HepA.

This information was provided by South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control.