Health Department warns of possible hepatitis A exposure 

Health officials in Long Beach notified recipients of Meals on Wheels that they may have been exposed to hepatitis A, a highly contagious liver infection, in late May and June.

The nonprofit delivers meals five times a week to about 400 people in Long Beach who can’t shop for themselves and live alone, most of them elderly. The Long Beach Health Department sent letters to those who consumed food delivered by the agency on May 23, May 31, June 6 and June 13, warning them of the possible exposure.

The individuals “were notified as standard public health practice, but the risk of developing Hepatitis A infection is low,” the Health Department said in a statement Thursday. “Meals on Wheels has cooperated fully and there is no ongoing risk to eating Meals on Wheels food.”

Meals on Wheels Executive Director Bill Cruikshank said the incident stemmed from a volunteer who was helping package food, but couldn’t provide further details due to privacy laws.

“This was a very low-risk exposure,” he said.

The Health Department advised those who were notified to get vaccinated for hepatitis A if they haven’t already, and to monitor any symptoms of the illness, which include diarrhea, stomach pain, dark-colored urine, fever, jaundice, nausea, vomiting, loss of appetite and muscle pain.

There is no treatment for the virus, which typically goes away on its own.

The virus is spread through contact with someone who is positive, or by ingesting food or water that has been contaminated with feces from an infected person.

“This potential exposure was not due to lack of health and safety protocols,” the Health Department statement said. “We believe Meals on Wheels is a great resource to the community and encourage those who benefit from the service to stay enrolled.”

Hepatitis A has become relatively rare following development of a vaccine, but California saw a large outbreak between 2016 and 2018, primarily among those experiencing homelessness and/or using drugs in places without sanitation.

During the outbreak, the state reported 708 cases of hepatitis A, the majority in San Diego.

More recently, 17 people were sickened with hepatitis A linked to contaminated strawberries in several states, including California, from March to April.

The number of current or historical cases reported in Long Beach wasn’t immediately available.

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Melissa has been a journalist for over two decades, starting her career as a reporter covering health and religion and moving into local news. She has worked as an editor for eight years, including seven years at the Press Telegram before joining the Long Beach Post in June 2018. She also serves as a part-time lecturer at Cal State Long Beach where she teaches multimedia journalism and writing.
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