JOPLIN, Mo. — Joplin Health Department Interim Director Ryan Talken confirmed with us Friday afternoon they learned on Tuesday, February 25, about a restaurant employee who tested positive for Hepatitis A.

That restaurant, Chili’s, 1430 S Rangeline, he tells us have been very cooperative with the Joplin Health Department and the process of making sure health code is being followed after the discovery.

We have a worker at Chili’s that has tested positive for Hepatitis A. The worker is a non-food handler. Our investigation shows that there is no indication that any transmission has occurred within the restaurant, between the people, or to anyone else outside of the restaurant.

We have been working with the restaurant, local and corporate level, they been very cooperative.

The measures that we have put in place, the infected person is excluded from work. That is based on health code standards.”

The infection was discovered when a medical agency reported the illness to the health department. Chili’s did not come forward and self-report.

Talken educates us a little that there are more than 150 infectious diseases labeled as a ‘reportable condition’ so doctors, clinics, labs must report the infection to the health department.

Age, name, gender, position at the restaurant and other details are withheld due to HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, aka legal privacy of information). However he could confirm it was a non-food handler based on job responsibilities.

“In following state health code, the individual who is sick, is excluded [from work] until the period of infectiousness is over,” he states.

Protocol now is that all other employees at the restaurant have to show proof that they have had a Hepatitis A vaccination to be able to continue working with food.

The other employees are restricted unless they can produce certain criteria. They can come back and say hey, I have had a Hepatitis A vaccine in my past.”

But if an employee cannot produce proof and they want to be vaccinated, then the health department does a short health investigation, the employee is vaccinated, and they are restricted to a non-food handler position until the period of infectiousness is past.

If someone chooses to not be vaccinated then until the period of infectiousness is past, since their last exposure, they must be restricted to a non-food handling position.

We asked Talken if this has happened in the recent past in Joplin? “This has not happened in the recent past. I have been in this position now for 15 years and this is the first Hepatitis A I’ve ever had in a restaurant.”

Chili’s remains open.

Missouri and Jasper County are seeing a much higher level of Hepatitis A cases.

Talken says he does not believe any of the current 9 new cases in Joplin reported in 2020 are related to food from a restaurant.

Additionally less than 5% of cases nationally are contracted from a restaurant.

More on Hepatitis A and it’s spread click here for earlier Four States Home Page articles.