Hepatitis A Infections Spark Health Warning for Mississippi Restaurant's Diners

Customers who ate at a seafood restaurant in Jackson County, Mississippi, may have been exposed to the hepatitis A virus, state health officials said Tuesday.

The Mississippi State Department of Health (MSDH) said it is investigating two cases of the disease in employees of Brady's Steaks and Seafood in the city of Pascagoula—located on the Gulf Coast.

The two employees have been diagnosed with hepatitis A, and health officials said that the staff members had worked at the restaurant while potentially infectious, which could have led to "possible exposure" for customers.

Hepatitis A is a contagious liver disease caused by the hepatitis A virus. Individuals can become infected by ingesting contaminated food or water, or via close contact with a person who is infected—including sexual contact.

The virus is most often spread via what is known as the "fecal-oral" route. This refers to when an individual eats or drinks something that contains small quantities of unseen fecal matter from an infected person, according to the Cleveland Clinic.

This route of transmission can occur when an individual touches something that has the virus on it, and then puts their hands in their mouth. It can happen when food is grown, picked, processed or served.

The MSDH said customers who ate at Brady's between March 1 and April 3 may have been exposed to the virus.

The agency urges anyone in this group to look out for possible symptoms of hepatitis A and contact their health provider if they feel sick.

The symptoms of hepatitis A include fever, nausea, diarrhea, vomiting, jaundice, abdominal pain and dark-colored urine.

"The risk of transmission of hepatitis A in this situation is likely very low," state epidemiologist Paul Byers said in a statement. "However, as a precaution, we recommend that anyone who ate food from this restaurant within the last two weeks should consider getting a hepatitis A vaccination if they have not done so already."

Vaccination can only prevent hepatitis A disease if the shot is given within 14 days of exposure. Any individuals who ate at the restaurant within the last two weeks can receive a hepatitis A vaccination free of charge from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Thursday, April 8, at the Jackson County Health Department, 46000 Lt. Eugene J. Majure Drive, in Pascagoula.

The MSDH said there is no indication at this time that the restaurant poses an ongoing risk for hepatitis A exposure.

"The management and staff of Brady's are fully cooperating with MSDH to prevent illnesses as a result of this exposure," Byers said.

The MSDH said people can help to prevent the spread of the virus by thoroughly washing hands with soap and water—including under the fingernails—after using the bathroom or changing diapers, and before preparing or eating food.

Symptoms of the disease usually appear around four weeks after exposure but they can begin anywhere between two and eight weeks later. Not everyone infected with the virus develops symptoms, while asymptomatic people can still be contagious. Most infected people make a full recovery.

Newsweek, in partnership with NewsGuard, is dedicated to providing accurate and verifiable vaccine and health information. With NewsGuard's HealthGuard browser extension, users can verify if a website is a trustworthy source of health information. Visit the Newsweek VaxFacts website to learn more and to download the HealthGuard browser extension.

The hepatitis A virus
Stock image: Artist's rendering of the hepatitis A virus. Customers at a Mississippi restaurant may have been exposed to hepatitis A, state health officials have warned. iStock