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A recent outbreak of Hepatitis A in the region brought back memories of a near plague of the disease several years earlier, when nearly six hundred residents came down with the illness. This past January, a worker at a Carl's Jr. unit in Spokane was diagnosed with Hepatitis A.
The company immediately announced it would require all its employees in the Spokane area to be vaccinated against the disease. "We want to be sure that there is zero risk for our customers," says Suzi Brown, a spokesperson for Carl's Jr. "We haven't had any resistance at all from our employees, either. Some have already been vaccinated because of the previous outbreak. Everyone is aware of the situation."
The company is footing the $26 fee for the initial shot required for the immunization. The employee is then expected to pay for a second booster shot six to twelve months later, although the first shot is totally effective 80 percent of the time. The shots are good for about twenty years.
Carl's Jr. has five units in the Spokane area and two others in the suburban tri-city region. Each unit employs about twenty-five people, all of whom are being immunized-a cost Carl's Jr. feels is necessary to mitigate any fears on the part of consumers. "People here are sensitive to the issue of hepatitis," says Dr. Paul Stepak, a medical epidemiologist at the Spokane Regional Health Department. "After the outbreaks in 1997 and 1998 in Spokane County, most people are quite attuned to the issue."
Stepak says that while foodservice workers transmit only about five percent of hepatitis cases, it's a risk that can be easily prevented. "If workers are vaccinated, you've eliminated that risk," Stepak says. "The legal liability to a restaurant if customers are infected could be substantial, so reducing that risk to zero is prudent."
According to Stepak, washing hands with soap and water and drying hands with towels after each trip to the bathroom is important to stopping the spread of hepatitis. But sometimes the germs can hide in the crevices of the skin. It's in those cases that the disease is most often spread. Further, many people don't recognize the symptoms of hepatitis for several days. By then, the victim could have spread the disease to many more people.
For Carl's Jr., trying to build share in a new market will be challenge enough without the added risk of spreading an illness. The company entered the local region about one year ago and is anxious to allay any fears on the part of consumers. "Our customers in the Spokane area know that when they visit any of our restaurants, our employees have all been vaccinated," says Brown. "Our restaurants are safe. We want to do the right thing." This article originally appeared in the June/July 2000 issue of QSR magazine. All rights reserved.