Health chiefs have praised a Scottish bakery and its staff for their cooperation following nine cases of hepatitis A infection.

Initial investigations by NHS Lanarkshire into nine confirmed and nine suspected cases of hepatitis A in North Lanarkshire have linked the infection with the JB Christie bakery in Airdrie. The implicated products are iced cakes, decorated cakes and pastries produced up to and including 27 April

Unlike hepatitis B or C, which are blood-borne viruses, hepatitis A infection can be caused by hand-to-mouth contact.

Patients have either been discharged or are currently in Monklands Hospital, and all are well and responding to treatment, said NHS Lanarkshire.

Voluntary closure

JB Christie voluntarily closed the bakery and its two retail outlets in Airdrie and Coatbridge on Friday and Saturday last week. It also contacted businesses it supplies in North Lanarkshire, as well as one in Cambuslang and one in West Lothian, asking them to withdraw their products from sale.

Describing the risks of infection as “very low”, NHS Lanarkshire consultant in Public Health Medicine Dr Josephine Pravinkumar said initial investigations indicated a possible link between the cases and the bakery.

“We would like to thank everyone at the bakery for helping us with the investigation to identify any possible source,” she added. “Once informed of the matter, the bakery owners took the decision to temporarily close their bakery and their two retail outlets in Airdrie and Coatbridge immediately and are fully cooperating with environmental health officers and public health staff.

The bakery said all its staff had since been tested and found clear of the hepatitis A infection, and had all been vaccinated as a precaution.

Deep clean of stores

In a statement on the bakery’s Facebook page, the business said it would re-open today (2 May), adding that, in addition to being “fully and voluntarily co-operative with the authorities”, it had taken a number of steps to reassure customers, including:

  • undertaking a deep clean of stores over and above its “extremely high day-to-day cleaning regime”;
  • disposing of all of fresh ingredients and any foodstuffs which could transmit infection;
  • reviewing and refreshing all staff hygiene practices to ensure best practice.

JB Christie owner Andrew Chisholm, who bought the business four years ago, has invited customers to contact him directly if they have any concerns.

“Please be assured that we have taken this incident very seriously indeed,” he said. “Throughout this period of closure, a team of environmental health officers were invited into the bakery to review all aspects, policies and working procedures and they were very satisfied with their findings and thanked us for our immediate reactions.”

“My team are all professional and hard-working, so I hope that now we have a clean bill of health, our community will get behind us and support us as we continue to deliver a great range of award-winning products.”

What is hepatitis A?

• Hepatitis A is a viral infection, which leads to inflammation of the liver and can cause mild to severe illness.

• The symptoms are generally a flu-like illness, loss of appetite, nausea, fever, abdominal pains or jaundice (a yellowing of the eyes or skin). The infection will clear with time and there are no long-term effects.

• The infection can be caused by hand-to-mouth contact of something that has been contaminated by the faeces (stools) of someone with hepatitis A. This could be food or water or by putting the hands in the mouth. This is different from hepatitis B or C, which are blood-borne viruses.

• Almost everyone recovers fully from hepatitis A with a lifelong immunity. A very small proportion of people infected with hepatitis A could develop serious complications.

• A safe and effective vaccine is available to prevent hepatitis A.

• Safe water supply, food safety, improved sanitation, hand washing and the hepatitis A vaccine are the most effective ways to combat the disease.