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780 inoculated at Polk County school in hepatitis A outbreak

Trying to limit an outbreak of hepatitis A, the Polk County Health Department on Friday vaccinated 780 of the 1,168 students, faculty and staff at Stambaugh Middle School where a cafeteria worker tested positive for the virus Wednesday.

The inoculations were voluntary and required parental consent for minors. No students at the school are known to have the disease.

The unidentified cafeteria worker, who hasn't been at work since March 15, was one of about 60 people who attended a church fish fry and potluck supper at a member's Auburndale home in February. As of Thursday, 13 of those people had contracted hepatitis A, a liver disease fatal in about 2 percent of diagnosed cases.

One of those stricken, Joseph "Mickey" Merritt, Canaan Temple Church's music director, remained in critical condition at Tampa General Hospital Friday. Family members say he needs a liver transplant.

Terry Brown, church pastor, was admitted to Winter Haven Hospital on Wednesday and was recovering from the virus. Other infected people are recovering at home. Health workers are trying to determine how the outbreak developed.

Dr. Daniel Haight, Polk's health director, said Stambaugh Middle School students and faculty who requested it were given a vaccine called immune globulin, which provides temporary protection for people who have been exposed to the hepatitis A virus in the past two weeks.

It was the largest mass inoculation in memory in Polk County. The Health Department had 125 doses of vaccine on hand, borrowed 50 from Hillsborough County, and had to have the rest shipped in from California.

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