A California norovirus outbreak of at least 100 cases has been traced back to a single restaurant. A staff member who worked at two fast-food locations tested positive for hepatitis A, putting customers of both sites at significant risk. Cases of the respiratory virus, human metapneumovirus (HMPV) which can lead to bronchitis or pneumonia, spiked in recent months.
Each year, state and local public health departments report outbreaks associated with retail food establishments to CDC. CDC’s latest report (covering 2017-2019) showed that:
- About 40% of outbreaks reported food contamination by an ill or infectious food worker.
- 47% of outbreaks with a confirmed or suspect agent were attributed to norovirus.
- 91.7% of the establishments with outbreaks had a policy requiring food workers to notify their manager when they were ill.
- But less than 50% provided paid sick leave.
Research also suggests that paid sick leave might improve food safety outcomes. For example, expanded paid sick leave in one restaurant chain reduced the incidence of employees working while ill; and supportive paid sick leave regulations have been associated with decreased foodborne illness rates.
In fact, a line in the report’s conclusion says it all, “Although a majority of managers reported their establishment had an ill worker policy, often these policies were missing components intended to reduce foodborne illness risk. Contamination of food by ill or infectious food workers is an important cause of outbreaks; therefore, the content and enforcement of existing policies might need to be re-examined and refined.”
As we head back into the infectious disease season, it will be beneficial for establishments to reexamine and refine your ill worker policies, while also continuing to stress the basics, including regular and thorough handwashing.
COVID Risk Matrix:
- A possible norovirus outbreak is reported in Singapore among students at a school. 28 illnesses have been reported.
- Cases of another type of respiratory virus spiked this spring, just as COVID-19 and RSV rates were finally falling in the US. The CDC reported that 19.6% of antigen tests and nearly 11% of PCR tests for human metapneumovirus, or HMPV, were positive in the US in early March. Discovered in 2001, HMPV is in the Pneumoviridae family along with respiratory syncytial virus causing cough, fever, nasal congestion, and shortness of breath that may progress to bronchitis or pneumonia.
- Measles. The South African National Institute for Communicable Diseases recently confirmed a measles outbreak had been declared in all the provinces in South Africa except for the Eastern Cape since late 2022. In total, 1,004 measles cases have been reported as of May 18, 2023. Vaccination before travel is recommended. The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is on course for a higher measles crisis than in 2022. Last year, 148,000 cases were reported – compared to 78,000 in the first 4 months of 2023. Also, the death toll in 2022 of 1,875 people from measles looks set to be higher in 2023: in the first four months of 2023, 900 have died. Therefore, the death toll is likely to be over 1,000 already in the first five months of 2023. Another report states that a polio and measles vaccination campaign has kicked off in the Democratic Republic of Congo’s east.
- Whooping cough is circulating in Montana and Kentucky, likely due to low vaccination rates, which dropped during the pandemic.
- Federal officials say more than 200 patients could be at risk of fungal meningitis after having surgical procedures at clinics in a Mexico border city. CDC said on May 24th it is collaborating with the Mexican Ministry of Health and U.S. state and local health departments to respond to the outbreak among patients who traveled to Matamoros, across the border from Brownsville, Texas.
- FDA approved the first oral antiviral, Paxlovid, for treatment of COVID-19 in adults. Paxlovid that was manufactured and packaged under the emergency use authorization and distributed by the US Department of Health and Human Services will continue to be available to ensure continued access for adults, as well as treatment of eligible children.