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Worker at Madeira Beach restaurant tests positive for hepatitis A

Taino Ortiz, 41, of Tampa, receives vaccinations during a Tampa Community Homeless Outreach event in September. [Times (2018)]
Published May 24

A food service worker from the Friendly Fisherman in Madeira Beach has tested positive for hepatitis A, according to the Florida Department of Health in Pinellas County.

On May 22, health officials began an investigation and determined that the patient was infectious while he worked May 7-20 at the Friendly Fisherman restaurant, 150 John's Pass Boardwalk Place. Patrons who visited the restaurant during this time period are urged to get the hepatitis A vaccine.

Tampa Bay has the highest number of hepatitis A cases in the state — 1,220 so far this year in Florida, according to the state Health Department compared with 548 last year. The numbers have been more or less doubling every year: In 2017, there were just 276 cases statewide, and in 2016, just 122.

In Pinellas County, which has the highest number of cases in the state, there have been 210 cases so far in 2019, already more than the 113 cases reported for all of 2018 in the county. In 2017, there were zero cases.

Generally, fewer than 3,000 cases of hepatitis A are reported nationwide yearly, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But that's not the trend recently. More than 7,000 cases were reported from 12 states in 2018.

The Florida Department of Health issued an advisory about the rise in cases in November. While outbreaks in local restaurants grabbed the headlines, less than 5 percent of new hepatitis A cases are related to food service workers.

Here's what you need to know about hepatitis A:

Hepatitis A explained: What you should — and shouldn't — worry about while dining out

Why are we suddenly hearing about hepatitis A outbreaks? Experts blame the opioid crisis.

Florida's surgeon general announces health advisory on hepatitis A

Hepatitis A is spread person-to-person through feces contaminated with the virus. It can be spread by mouth, from eating or drinking contaminated food or water, or through sex. Symptoms include fever, dark urine, yellow-tinged skin or eyes, fatigue and gastric issues. It can also cause damage to the liver, especially among those who already have liver disease.

The Florida Department of Health is reaching out with vaccinations to communities that are most at risk: people who report drug use, homeless populations and gay men. In addition, the department will be working with local jails, drug treatment centers, homeless shelters and hospitals to educate and vaccinate.

Vaccinations are being offered for free or at reduced rates in health department clinics across the area.

Contact Justine Griffin at jgriffin@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8467. Follow @SunBizGriffin.

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