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Risk of hepatitis from Safeway doughnuts low

There were 67 people who were immunized on Jan. 2-3 after a food handler at the Okotoks Safeway was found to have Hepatitis A. Doughnuts purchased from bulk-bins at the Safeway were a concern. Alberta Health Services has said there is no concern with currently buying product from the Safeway.

Brent Calver/OWW

An Okotoks mother of two young daughters was calmed by talking to representatives at a hepatitis A immunization clinic, which was held due to a concern of possible contamination at a local grocery store.

“We came to the (Okotoks) Health and Wellness Centre and talked to a very well-informed nurse who set my mind at ease,” said Courtney Johnson, shortly after leaving the clinic with her five and three-year-old daughters on Jan. 3. “We just need to monitor for certain symptoms and be mindful of how our kids are feeling, whether they are sick or not.”

The clinic in Okotoks was opened Jan. 2-3 after Alberta Health Services confirmed a food handler at the Southridge Okotoks Safeway bakery department had hepatitis A.

Safeway patrons who had eaten bulk doughnuts from the store were advised to monitor themselves for as much as two months after consuming the product.

“As a precaution, anyone who consumed unpackaged doughnuts produced at this location between Dec. 1 and 21 is advised to monitor themselves and their family for symptoms for 50 days since those products were consumed,” stated Dr. David Strong, medical officer of health, Alberta Health Services, Calgary zone, in a Dec. 30 press release. Hepatitis A immunization is only effective for two weeks after exposure to the disease. As a result, the clinic was held only on those two days for people who would’ve eaten doughnuts from the store on Dec. 19-21.

There were 43 people who were immunized on Jan. 2 and 24 on Jan. 3, Strong said in an interview Thursday.

He added an immunization clinic was also held previously for Safeway employees.

Johnson said although her family consumed the doughnuts early in December, prior to the immunization deadline of Dec. 19, she still wanted to attend the clinic for some peace of mind.

“It was about a week ago that I read on CBC there was reason to be concerned if you had consumed these doughnuts in a certain period of time,” she said. “We were pleased with AHS getting the word out in a timely manner, obviously we were very concerned about the health of our children.”

Johnson said she was informed at the clinic there was a “very, very low risk” of her family catching hepatitis A from the doughnuts.

Her daughters have not shown any signs of hepatitis A symptoms. As for her own health, Johnson had no worries. She had been immunized prior to a trip to South America when she was younger.

Strong stressed the risk of getting hepatitis A from the doughnuts is low.

“It is, in our opinion, a low-risk situation,” he said. “There have been outbreaks in the past associated with bakeries — not in Alberta or Canada — but elsewhere.

“We thought we would take the precautionary step in offering the immunization.”

Strong said there has been no indication of other cases as a result of the doughnuts.

He would not comment on how the employee got hepatitis.

Strong said after a thorough investigation by environmental investigators it was determined any potential risk at the Okotoks Safeway was solely with the doughnuts.

“The environmental inspectors went in and understood the role that the detected food handler had,” he said. “Then they look at the operations and from that they do a risk assessment… The only identifiable products the food handler would have been involved in producing that would have potentially created a risk were these doughnut products.”

He said there are no concerns about the overall processes at Safeway.

“They were using all the necessary steps that are required to safely produce food,” Strong said.

Johnson added she would continue to shop at Safeway, with no concerns about buying doughnuts either.

“These things do happen and they are out of our control — I have no qualms about shopping there again,” she said, adding events such as this can help bring improvement and awareness.

Symptoms of hepatitis A may include: tiredness; poor appetite; nausea and vomiting; abdominal pain and fever; followed by dark-coloured urine, light-coloured stools, and yellowing of eyes and skin several days later. Some people, especially young children, may get hepatitis A infection without noticing any symptoms; however, they are still infectious to others.

Individuals who develop such symptoms are advised to immediately contact Health Link at 811. Anyone with any questions are concerns can also call the Health Link line.

Hepatitis A is an infection of the liver caused by a virus. Spread through the fecal-oral route, individuals primarily contract hepatitis A through direct contact with an infected person; however, individuals can also contract the illness indirectly by ingestion of contaminated food or water. If an infected individual does not properly wash his/her hands after using the washroom, the virus can be transmitted through food and beverages prepared by the infected individual.

Illness can occur within 15 to 50 days after exposure to the virus, but usually does within 28 to 30 days. Individuals can be infectious one to two weeks before symptoms occur until at least one week after the onset of illness.

The Western Wheel attempted to get hold of Safeway representatives late Thursday afternoon, but they were unavailable for comment. Further attempts will be made.