Hepatitis A at Lyneham High School: Questions and answers
On Wednesday 9 November, the ACT Health Directorate was made aware of a public health issue at Lyneham High School.
The Health Directorate was informed that a person involved in food preparation at the school canteen had been confirmed as having Hepatitis A.
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- What is Hepatitis A?
Hepatitis A is an infection of the liver caused by the Hepatitis A virus.
- What are the symptoms I should look for?
Symptoms of Hepatitis A infection include:
loss of appetite and weight loss;
nausea and (sometimes) vomiting;
fever and chills;
yellow skin and eyes (jaundice); and/or
Symptoms usually start within 4 weeks of exposure to the virus, but this can range from 2-7 weeks. Symptoms usually last for 1-3 weeks.
- How dangerous is Hepatitis A infection?
The Hepatitis A virus affects the liver but rarely causes permanent damage. The disease can be more serious for people who have an existing liver disease or are immuno-compromised.
- How does Hepatitis A spread?
The infection is generally seen in travellers returning from overseas who have contracted the virus through ingestion of contaminated food and/or water. Recent cases in Australia have been linked to food prepared by infected food handlers. Vaccination against Hepatitis A and good hygiene is the best way to prevent infection.
- Is there an incubation period? How long before I know if I am infected?
The incubation period for Hepatitis A is generally approximately 30 days, but can range from 2-7 weeks.
- What is the potential impact on young people over time if they contract Hep A?
Teenagers and adults who develop Hepatitis A generally have symptoms lasting one or two weeks, or in severe cases up to several months. Unlike other types of Hepatitis, Hepatitis A does not cause long-term liver disease.
- When was the Government informed?
The Health Directorate was informed of the case on 9 November 2011 and commenced a public health investigation as soon as the case was confirmed.
- Potentially, how long has my child been exposed to the Hepatitis A virus?
Any person who consumed food prepared at the Lyneham High School canteen between 17 October and 4 November 2011 may have potentially been exposed the Hepatitis A virus.
- My child hasnít eaten anything from the school canteen, but I am worried they may catch Hepatitis A from other students.
Staff and students who did not consume food at the school canteen during the timeframe described were not exposed and are therefore not at risk of Hepatitis A infection from this worker.
- My child ate food prepared by the canteen, and may have been exposed to the Hepatitis A virus. What can I do to prevent them becoming ill?
Administration of the Hepatitis A vaccine within two weeks of exposure has been shown to reduce the risk of people becoming infected following exposure to the virus.
The Health Directorate will run a vaccination clinic at the Lyneham High School on Monday 14th and Tuesday 15th November 2011. Students and staff who may have been exposed to the Hepatitis A virus are encouraged to attend and receive a free Hepatitis A vaccination.
- What is the risk to children and students from other schools that attended Lyneham High School?
The risk of the Hepatitis A virus having been transmitted is considered low at Lyneham High and, for children visiting from other schools with only a single opportunity to eat food from the canteen, would be even lower. Children who did not eat at the canteen are at no risk of exposure to Hepatitis A.
Hepatitis A vaccine has been recommended for any student at Lyneham High School who ate food items prepared on-site by the canteen between 17 October and 4 November 2011. This is based on: the period over which the person preparing food is likely to have been able to pass on the virus; that children at Lyneham High have regular access to the canteen; and that their last possible exposure is within the past two weeks.
If the single visit to the school was longer than 2 weeks ago, vaccination against Hepatitis A may not be effective and is not generally recommended. If the exposure was within the last two weeks the vaccine is recommended.
Parents are encouraged to discuss any concerns with their GP or ring the Health Protection Service on 6205 2155.
Food items prepared on-site at the school include:
Salads and Pasta dishes
Burgers and Wraps
Pies and Sausage Rolls
Muffins and Cookies
For children who only ate pre-packed commercial products there is a negligible risk of exposure to Hepatitis A. Drinks are not considered to be risk foods.
Health Implications and Information
- Is it safe to eat food from the school canteen now?
An inspection of the canteen was conducted on Wednesday 9 November 2011. Precautionary measures such as discarding any food that may have been contaminated have been taken, and it is safe to eat food prepared at the canteen. The school has been highly cooperative and responsive in this matter.
- Why is the school still open if there has been a case of Hepatitis A and it is contagious?
National Guidelines do not recommend the closure of a school under these circumstances. As the infected food handler is no longer working in the canteen and any foods prepared by this individual have since been discarded, the risk has been removed.
- How many people have been exposed?
While a significant number of people attend the school regularly (approximately) 1000 students and 100 staff), it is not possible to determine how many of these people may have consumed food prepared at the canteen between 17 October and 4 November 2011.
- What is the risk to people who attended the school on Tuesday night for the Angry Anderson event?
Food provided at this event was not prepared by the school canteen and as such, there is no risk to people who attended this event.
- What advice do you have for parents?
If your child is unsure about what food items they may have consumed, or when they may have consumed them, consider getting them vaccinated as a precaution. The Health Directorate also advises that if you are concerned that your child may have symptoms you should consult their GP as soon as possible.
- Are vaccinations needed for people who have come into contact with students (e.g. families)?
No. Vaccinations for contacts of people who may have been exposed are not considered necessary.
- Why are the vaccinations not being offered until next week?
The Hepatitis A vaccine is not a vaccine that is routinely provided by the Health Directorate and sufficient quantities are not held locally to treat those potentially affected at the school. Before any vaccination can occur parents must be appropriately informed of the circumstances and risks that may be associated with the vaccine. By law a consent form is required to be signed by a parent or legal guardian prior to vaccination.
- Does it create any additional health risks for people who have come into contact with the virus NOT to be until nearly a week later?
No. The vaccine is effective if administered within two weeks of last exposure to the Hepatitis A virus.
- If parents donít want to wait until next week to get their child vaccinated, can they seek treatment earlier?
Yes. Parents may wish to seek vaccination and advice from a local GP at their own expense.
- Assuming the students at Lyneham HS have had contact with people from other schools and family/friends, what advice do you have for them?
Contacts of students and teachers at Lyneham High School are not considered to be at risk of Hepatitis A infection.
- Where do you advise people seek further information?
A fact sheet on Hepatitis A and other relevant information is available on this website: www.health.act.gov.au/publications/fact-sheets/hepatitis-a
- Will there be a hotline set up for people with further questions?
The Acting Chief Health Officer has written to parents of children who attend Lyneham High School and provided information about the Hepatitis A virus and preventative measures. Parents may also contact the Health Protection Service on 6205 2155 to discuss any concerns.
- Have local GPs been notified?
The Acting Chief Health Officer has written to GPs and hospital Emergency Departments to advise them of the situation.
- Are canteens subject to regular health checks?
Yes, canteens are registered and inspected at regular intervals.
- Does this incident raise questions about the need for more regular health checks for people who work in school canteens?
No. Hepatitis A is relatively uncommon in the ACT. A number of food handling and hygiene practices are required by the Australian New Zealand Food Standards (ANZFS) code. These measures are in place and enforced to ensure the safe handling and processing of food in the ACT.
- Is the Health Directorate confident that levels of hygiene are maintained in our school canteens?
Yes. All canteens are inspected regularly to ensure compliance with Australian New Zealand Food Standards (ANZFS) code.