Illinois McDonald’s Hepatitis Outbreak Linked to Fast Food Workers

A recent hepatitis A outbreak in northwestern Illinois may be linked to employees at a local McDonald’s restaurant who were known to be infected with the disease. Both the McDonald’s management and local health officials have come under close scrutiny for potentially exposing thousands of people who ate at the restaurant to a risk of infection.

A McDonald’s fast food restaurant in Rock Island, Ill. was shut down on July 15, after it was confirmed that at least two employees had contracted hepatitis A, a potentially serious virus that can cause swelling of the liver, abdominal pain, nausea and vomiting. It can take 15 to 20 days for symptoms to appear after exposure, and an estimated 10,000 people who visited the McDonalds are being asked to get preventive treatment.

One of the employees was diagnosed with the infection on June 9, and another reportedly learned she had hepatitis A on June 20. Rock Island County Health Department rules stipulate that an establishment must be informed when an employee has the infection, and the restaurant must take corrective action. However, inspection reports obtained by the media and statements of one of the workers suggest that health officials and the restaurants may have known about at least one of the infections at least three weeks before any action was taken.

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According to health officials, there have been at least 20 cases of the infection identified in association with the Illinois McDonald’s hepatitis outbreak. Thousands of vaccines have been shipped to the county to treat anyone who ate at the McDonalds.

On Monday, the Rock Island County Board announced that the sheriff’s department has started an investigation, focusing on who failed to notify the proper authorities when the first employee with hepatitis A was diagnosed.

Originally, both the county health department and the McDonald’s franchise owner, Kevin Murphy, said the infections were not detected until July 13. However, local news station KWQC-TV, based in nearby Davenport, reports that inspection reports from a month earlier indicate health inspectors knew of the first case of hepatitis A by at least June 19. The health inspections also have a laundry list of violations including:

  • Food preparers handling food with their bare hands
  • Mold growing on an ice machine
  • Workers not properly washing their hands
  • Presence of insects/rodents

The second employee who contracted hepatitis A, Cheryl Schram, indicates that she was diagnosed on June 20, and told the restaurant several days later, once she was released from the hospital.

The Rock Island Health Department says its policy is to notify the restaurant within 24 hours of an infection diagnosis.

County Board Chairman Jim Bohnsack said the investigation into the matter will start on Wednesday and should take about a week. Bohnsack has said the county wanted to focus on getting the vaccines to customers first. He also said the investigation will help the county have all of the facts available in the face of a likely class action lawsuit over the hepatitis exposure.


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