Kentucky restaurants: hepatitis A publicity hurting business

LEXINGTON, Ky. (WTVQ)- It seems almost every week, we tell you about a new hepatitis A case. Kentucky restaurants say they’re losing business because of all that reporting. They think health departments are treating them unfairly.

Since fall 2017, more than than 3,000 cases have been reported across the state.

Even though we hear about food and hep A all the time, just a small percentage of those cases have involved food workers.

Of the more than 100 cases in Fayette County since last year, for example, just 5% involve restaurants. Still, some people say they’re scared to eat out.

“It makes me more cautious of what I eat and where I eat at,” Maurice Keys said.

The owner of Red State Barbecue says he’s seen a 20% drop in business since a hepatitis A case was reported at his Cynthiana location.

“It was devastating,” David Carroll said.

According to Carroll, the employee had already quit and never touched food. Even though it was at a location that isn’t even open anymore, Carroll says it hurt his Georgetown Road restaurant.

“The restaurant industry tends to be the one that takes the hardest hit on that even though there are so many different places people could pick it up,” Carroll said.

It isn’t just Carroll. The Kentucky Restaurant Association says others also report a drop in business. They blame health departments for posting and sharing with journalists cases at restaurants more than cases at any other business.

“We have the obligation to let the public know because we don’t want other people to get sick,” Kevin Hall from the Lexington-Fayette County Health Department says it’s important to make an announcement about cases involving restaurants because they’re one of the few businesses that don’t keep records that would allow the department to find and warn people who had visited plus Hepatitis A is most likely to be spread through food.

“If an employee at a retail outlet, a clothing store, handles a piece of clothing, it’s very unlikely you’re going to take that sweater and put it in your mouth,” Hall said.

Hall says the department has done its best to let people know it’s safe to eat at restaurants.

He just hopes people will learn more and get vaccinated.

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