Protecting Workers from Hepatitis A

Hepatitis A is a highly contagious liver disease caused by the hepatitis A virus. It can range in severity from a mild illness lasting a few weeks to a severe illness lasting several months resulting in death.

Hepatitis A virus is usually spread when a person ingests fecal matter—even in microscopic amounts—after contact with objects, food, or drinks contaminated by the feces of an infected person.

California ranks first in the nation with 683 reported cases of hepatitis A and 21 deaths, with a 65% hospitalization rate, and the largest person-to-person outbreak of hepatitis A in the United States since the vaccine became available in 1996, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports. Outbreaks have been reported in San Diego, Santa Cruz, and Los Angeles Counties.

In October 2017, California Governor Jerry Brown also declared a state of emergency to assist in the purchase of hepatitis A vaccine. Brown’s declaration allowed the state to purchase the much-needed vaccine directly from the manufacturer.

So far, more than 116,000 persons have been vaccinated and community centers have distributed more than 10,000 hygiene kits among the homeless population.

The following measures will help reduce the spread of hepatitis A in workplaces:

  • Maintain a clean and sanitary workplace;
  • Clean toilet facilities;
  • Provide handwashing facilities;
  • Provide appropriate personal protective equipment;
  • Provide training; and
  • Offer hepatitis A vaccinations.

As part of their duty to correct unsafe or unhealthy conditions in the workplace (title 8 section 3203), employers should ask their local health departments whether hepatitis A vaccinations should be offered to employees who are at increased risk and if so, whether the local health department is available to assist.