Hepatitis scare reported at local Albertsons

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By AJ Vicens

People who bought produce at the Albertsons at West Bowles Avenue and South Platte Canyon Road may have been exposed to hepatitis A and are encouraged to contact the Tri-County Health Department for vaccinations.

It was initially reported that customers who bought produce between April 6 and 21 needed to be tested, but it turns out the Albertsons worker who tested positive for hepatitis A could have spread it as far back as late March.

Customers who bought the following should call the health department: green onions, celery with the leaves cut off, lettuce that wasn't pre-bagged, watermelon, cantaloupe or honeydew melon that had been cut into halves or quarters, and plastic containers that contained pre-cut watermelon.

The Tri-County Health Department, which serves Arapahoe, Douglas and Adams counties, says anyone who bought those products from that store from late March through April 21 can call the health department and arrange to get a shot.

Gary Sky, spokesman for Tri-County Health, said the shots need to be administered within 14 days of a person eating the contaminated produce. After 14 days, the shot isn't effective.

Sky said the health department expanded the possible exposure period after reviewing the facts.

"We were trying to figure out all the days this guy worked and go 14 days from when he started showing symptoms," Sky said.

Store managers refused to comment on the story, referring calls to Albertsons' national spokeswoman.

"We immediately disposed of any product that was potentially affected," Albertsons spokeswoman Christine Wilcox said in a statement. "After evaluating the store and determining that our associate followed safe food-handling procedures and wore gloves, both Tri-County Health Department and Albertsons felt that the risk of transmission was low."

She added that "out of an abundance of caution," the health department is offering free shots to people who think they may be at risk.

"Customers who may have purchased these products and may still have them at home are urged to dispose of them immediately, and thoroughly wash their hands after handling these items," Wilcox said.

Hepatitis A is a virus that attacks the liver and is transmitted through consumption of contaminated food. Symptoms include fever, fatigue, loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, dark urine, clay-colored bowel movements, joint pain and jaundice. It usually takes two to six weeks for symptoms to appear.

The virus is carried in human feces and is usually spread when people don't properly wash their hands after using the rest room or changing baby diapers.

The vast majority of people who get the virus recover completely and do not have lasting liver damage, although they may feel sick for months, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Contact AJ Vicens at aj@evergreenco.com, and check www.columbinecourier.com for updates and breaking news.

Contact the Tri-County Health Department for information on shot clinics at 303-846-2006 or www.tchd.org.