KNOX COUNTY, Tenn. (WATE) – An inmate in the Knox county jail was found to be infected with hepatitis A after he was working in the jail kitchen when food was being prepared for a county commission meeting.
Larsen Jay, Knox County commissioner at-large for seat 10, said he doesn’t usually eat the food the Sheriff’s Office provides for commission meetings, but he did on May 28.
“We are regularly served food that comes from the jail that is cold cuts, sandwiches and things like that,” Jay said.
Dr. Martha Buchanan, director of the Knox County Health Department, said cold food handled by someone infected with the virus is a way someone else can contract hepatitis A.
“People who are sick with hepatitis A and go to the bathroom and don’t wash their hands well, and they maybe roll some silverware, or served some food that doesn’t get cooked – those kind of things are how they’re going to transfer it to you,” Buchanan said.
She said the nation is dealing with a hepatitis A outbreak, and the isolated event with the inmate was a part of it.
“Sometimes we have folks who do drugs recreationally and end up in jail. So we have had some people who were positive with hepatitis A who are also in the jail,” Buchanan said.
Those considered at high risk for hepatitis A infection in the outbreak include people who abuse drugs, people experiencing homelessness and men who have sex with men, according to the Tennessee Department of Health.
While some might think a jail is dirty, Buchanan and Jay both said that where the food was handled wasn’t the issue.
“We just inspected their kitchens and they got really high scores,” Buchanan said.
“I found them to be very professional, very clean, and they take it very seriously, and so I certainly don’t think there’s any issue going forward,” Jay said.
Jay applauded how quickly the Sheriff’s Office and health department acted when the inmate showed symptoms and getting the word out to those who could be affected.
Jay said he didn’t have to worry about getting infected because he and his family have been vaccinated.
Buchanan said the vaccination is the best way to prevent infection with hepatitis A.
She said because there is a nationwide outbreak and hepatitis has become a public health concern that is preventable, the health department will administer the first dose of the vaccination for free.
“If you’ve been exposed, you need to be vaccinated, or if you travel internationally, you should be vaccinated,” Buchanan advised.