Las Vegas Attendees Exposed to Hepatitis Virus

Las Vegas — An ice cream machine sales representative unknowingly exposed hundreds or even thousands of attendees to the hepatitis A virus at last month's Global Gaming Expo (G2E) here. Though it was considered an isolated incident, Clark County Health District plans to re-evaluate existing health regulations.

Schwan Food Co. was featuring its new self-serve ice cream machine at the event, with a sales rep handing out cones and cups. The virus was not contained in the ice cream or machine, but rather was passed along by the infected rep handing out the product or even just shaking hands.

An estimated 1,000 ice cream samples were distributed.

"The sales rep had no idea he was infectious and had no symptoms," said Schwan spokesman Mike Gunderson. The rep started to feel ill after the conference was over, and found out he had hepatitis.

"We informed the health district right away to make sure all the necessary information was given," Gunderson said.

The hepatitis A virus is a more benign, lesser-known form of hepatitis than hepatitis B or C. Quite common, it is considered treatable.

The Clark County Health District and G2E quickly informed the nearly 26,000 people who had attended the show and set up a clinic to distribute the vaccination. A total of 490 people were treated.

In Nevada, people who handle food as part of their jobs are required to receive a hepatitis A vaccination. The sales rep had a temporary food-serving permit that did not require a vaccination. There is no law against handling food with bare hands.

"This has prompted us to look at our existing laws," said Brian Labus, senior epidemiologist for the health district. "We want to make changes now to prevent this from happening in the future."

Noted Dr. Lawrence Sands, director of community health for the health district, "As much as we've put a lot of prevention in place for this incident, we can't prevent every disease. Practicing good hand hygiene is everyone's best protection."

In re-evaluating its regulations and policies, Sands plans to involve the local meetings industry.