By July 19th, Whitey's had disinfected the premises and reopened. A Public Health spokesperson interviewed by The Hawk Eye, a local newspaper, advised the public that the restaurant was safe. And no restaurant patrons have shown symptoms of hepatitis A infection (which has an incubation period as long as six weeks) as yet.
An outbreak of hepatitis A appears to have been prevented. The restaurant was cleaned and disinfected and has reopened for business. No harm, no foul? No way!
Business at Whitey's was down by almost 90% immediately after the restaurant reopened, and is recovering very slowly – to about 50% of its pre-hepatitis level. The restaurant, which used to serve more than 100 customers on a Wednesday night, received only 12 customers last Wednesday.
The total cost of running Whiteys, including paying its 25 employees, is approximately $17,000/week, according to the restaurant's owner. In an effort to encourage its customers to return, Whitey's handed out "...a couple thousand dollars worth..." of restaurant coupons worth $3 each to everyone who obtained a hepatitis A vaccine at the County's special clinics.
Let's tally the combined cost – both to the restaurant's owners and to the public – of this non-outbreak of hepatitis.
- Whitey's operating cost for one week with little or no revenue: $17,000
- Value of incentive coupons handed out to restaurant patrons: $2,000
- Cost of precautionary vaccinations (~650 patrons x $30/injection): $19,500
Many people have pointed out that food service-associated hepatitis alerts and outbreaks could be avoided by insisting that all food handlers be vaccinated against hepatitis A virus. Now, only two jurisdictions in the United States mandate this – St. Louis County, Missouri and Clark County, Nevada. But CDC has concluded, based on a study published in 2001, that this approach is not cost-effective, either to restaurant owners or to society in general.
Is CDC correct? It would be interesting to compare the cost and frequency of hepatitis A alerts and restaurant-associated outbreaks in St. Louis and Clark counties against other counties with similar demographics. Perhaps a follow-up study is called for.
Are you listening, CDC?