Thousands of Camden County Starbucks customers potentially exposed to hepatitis A

This is the Starbucks sign outside a Starbucks coffee shop. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

This is the Starbucks sign outside a Starbucks coffee shop. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

Thousands of customers at a Camden County Starbucks may have been exposed to hepatitis A, and the Camden County Health Department is trying to get the word out to them.

About 3,600 people who patronized the Starbucks at 1490 Blackwood Clementon Rd. in Gloucester Township between Nov. 4 and 13 are urged to get a hepatitis A vaccine as soon as possible to prevent getting sick. An employee who handled food has tested positive for that virus.

If people get vaccinated within one to two weeks of exposure, they have greater chances of preventing active infection, public health officials say.

“People that have hep A have their liver damaged. They can transmit it from people to people, it’s a highly contagious liver infection. So that’s why we want people to speak to their primary care provider and also to see if they can get vaccinated,” said county health officer Dr. Paschal Nwako.

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The Camden County Health Department also is offering free vaccinations to anyone who visited the Starbucks during that period. The vaccines will be offered at the clinic at 508 Lakeland Rd. in Blackwood from 3 to 7 p.m. on Friday and from 9 to 11:30 a.m. on Saturday.

The health department has placed signs at the store to inform customers.

Camden County public affairs director Dan Keashen and his daughter were among the affected Starbucks customers.

“My mind immediately went to my 8-year-old daughter, who was with me on Veterans Day — we stopped in to get a cake pop for her and a cup of coffee for me. And so what transpired from there was an immediate call to my pediatrician to ensure that she was OK and vaccinated,” Keashen said.

Most people born after 2000 have had mandatory hepatitis A vaccinations, and Keashen said the pediatrician assured him that his daughter was in good standing.

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After that, Keashen said, he got vaccinated as soon as he could.

“While the news was disconcerting, we could take solace in the fact that we were both protected by a very common and, for the most part, mandated vaccine,” he said.

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

“It enters the body, usually through the mouth and mucous membranes. It can replicate them in the GI tract, and it is excreted in human feces. So contamination with any human feces is a potential source of exposure to hep A. In particular, you see signs about careful hand-washing at all of our restaurants and similar facilities. That’s in part to reduce the spread of an agent like hepatitis A,” said epidemiologist Dr. Stanley Weiss of Rutgers University.

“The amount of hepatitis A virus that can be in the feces can be quite high. And so the potential for a spread is quite high,” Weiss said.

Symptoms of hepatitis A include fever, fatigue, loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, and abdominal discomfort. But officials want people who were potentially exposed to get vaccinated before symptoms occur.

Symptoms arise two to four weeks after exposure, although they can in some instances occur two to seven weeks after exposure.

Children under 6 with hepatitis A often have mild symptoms or are asymptomatic. Older people with preexisting liver disease are at greater risk for developing serious illness and should take the recommendation seriously, Weiss said.

Efficacy for the hepatitis A vaccine is likely to be greater than 10 years, he said.

For more information on hepatitis A and vaccine availability, patrons of Starbucks can contact the Camden County Health Department at 856-549-0530 or their primary care physicians.

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