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Roanoke’s health district leader shares updates on COVID, Hepatitis

Published: May. 17, 2022 at 6:24 PM EDT
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ROANOKE, Va. (WDBJ) - Roanoke’s health district leader shared updates Tuesday morning on the status of COVID and Hepatitis cases in the district.

Dr. Cynthia Morrow, head of the Roanoke City - Alleghany Health Districts, also provided some insight into a recent Hepatitis investigation at a local restaurant.

Starting with a COVID-19 update, Dr. Morrow said COVID cases continue to climb, but hospitalizations are holding steady. During her virtual update Tuesday morning, Morrow said there was a significant increase in confirmed cases.

The Roanoke City - Alleghany Health District’s data are considered an underestimate, however, because they don’t include home tests.

“Two weeks ago we reported 12 new cases of COVID-19 in the hospital and this week we have 13,” Morrow said. “So that’s not a significant increase that’s mirroring the increase we’re seeing in community cases.”

In the meantime, they also continue to monitor Hepatitis cases.

The health district confirmed Monday an employee of Luigi’s Gourmet Italian Restaurant had Hepatitis A.

Dr. Morrow explained Tuesday the health district was dispatched immediately to investigate, calling it a drop-everything-and-go situation. The responding team conducted interviews with staff and reviewed the restaurants policies and procedures.

They confirmed the employee had not handled food, and was therefore not a public health threat. Dr. Morrow said the restaurant did exactly what it was supposed to and followed all protocols.

“The owner of the establishment is, from my opinion, sort of the ideal owner who immediately understood the gravity of the situation, that, the potential situation, and was very forthcoming and cooperative,” she said.

That said, Dr. Morrow said it serves as an important reminder to food establishments they can’t let their guards down with respect to food-handling procedures. This, especially as Hepatitis A cases continue to climb.

Morrow said Hepatitis A disproportionately affects 30- to 39-year-olds in Roanoke City who are injection drug users. In a typical year, they only see two to three cases.

So far this year, they’ve totaled 56 confirmed cases, up from 50 in late April.

“Hepatitis A is a vaccine-preventable viral infection that can be prevented both with the vaccine and also with good hand hygiene and good sanitary precautions.”

In light of the rise, Morrow said the health districts have been working with local restaurants to make sure they’re following all typical precautions for safely handling food.

In the meantime, the Health District is planning to screen people for Hepatitis B and C this week. Unlike Hepatitis A, they are blood-borne, and recommended for at-risk individuals. The CDC recommends each adult should be tested for Hepatitis B at least once and with every pregnancy. Those at-risk of Hep C include people who use drugs and people born in countries where the disease is prevalent.

This Thursday the health district will hold a screening at the Health Department on Williamson Road from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. and Valley Cleaners and Coin Laundry from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m.

May 19 is National Hepatitis Testing Day.

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