12/14/07 — O'Berry Christmas event postponed by hepatitis concern

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O'Berry Christmas event postponed by hepatitis concern

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on December 14, 2007 2:11 PM

Erring on the side of caution, O'Berry Center officials canceled Thursday night's annual Community Christ-mas Extravanza after several residents turned up positive for Hepatitis A antibodies during recent routine testing.

Dr. Frank Farrell, O'Berry director, said the testing was done on Dec. 4, with results being returned earlier this week. Initially, three residents were found to have Hepatitis A antibodies in their blood work.

"We don't normally do a routine screening of Hepatitis A," Farrell said, noting that according to the Center for Disease Control, about 30 percent of the population will typically test positive for it.

"It just means that they have been exposed to it. It does not mean that they have active Hepatitis A," he explained. Nevertheless, additional testing was done on others residing in the same unit, then expanded the range.

Of the 39 tested, 17 came back positive on the screening. In the second round of testing, which are more conclusive, Farrell said, 14 out of 14 came back negative.

No resident or staff member is exhibiting any signs of Hepatitis A, he noted. But since all the tests results are not back in, the decision was made to cancel the community event.

"We want to be a good neighbor with this community, and a good neighbor wouldn't want to expose people to anything potentially risky," Farrell said Thursday. "The information we got strongly suggests to me that there's no acute infection, but we don't want to take the risk."

With an estimated 1,500 people expected to attend the evening event, Farrell said it was prudent to cancel, and hopefully reschedule in the near future.

"We started testing on Monday. If this had been a week ago, it probably wouldn't have been a problem," he said. "We're being overly cautious but I don't think that's a bad thing."

Hepatitis is an emotionally charged issue, Farrell said. And even though there is currently no evidence of an active strain at O'Berry -- either by the blood tests or symptoms -- the approach is continue following up on the screenings.

There is no cause for alarm, said Dr. Scott McConnaughey, deputy director of health services at O'Berry. In the random testing done across the campus, results were the same as would be expected nationwide -- "one-third of the population will test positive for an exposure to Hepatitis A at some time in their life," he said, which means they "may have been exposed, but are not symptomatic."

He stressed that there is "not any evidence of clinically active Hepatitis A now nor in the recent past" at the center.

"First of all, there's no chronic carrier site. Once someone has the disease or been exposed to it, those form antibodies for protecting them for the rest of their lives, and they're not contagious."

O'Berry will continue to take precautions and work with state and local health agencies in monitoring the situation, McConnaughey added.

For now, Farrell is more concerned about maintaining public safety and the trust they have tried to build in the community.

"We have been working very hard to include the community and engage them in what we're doing out here at O'Berry," he said. "We don't want to do anything to create any barriers to people coming out here."

He said he is confident in all his staff is doing to ward off any potential problems.

"There are no actual treatments needed. We'll look at the availability of Hepatitis A vaccine, but all we have basically proven at this point is that we have a large group of individuals who can never get or can never spread Hepatitis A," McConnaughey said.

"That's the glass half full," Farrell added. "We have tried to move as expeditiously as possible."