Tourists at no risk of hepatitis B or C, health officials say

Public health officials say tourists who visit Las Vegas are at no risk of infection from hospitality workers exposed to hepatitis at the Endoscopy Center of Southern Nevada.

That's because hepatitis B and C -- the two forms of liver disease the Southern Nevada Health District says might have spread through the center -- are blood-borne diseases not transmittable through casual contact related to food-and-beverage service or hotel housekeeping help.

"How (the two forms of hepatitis) are transmitted should have nothing to do with the work of food servers," said Jennifer Sizemore, a health district spokeswoman. "It really isn't an issue. Food workers are not at any more risk for the disease than anyone else, and they wouldn't be at risk of passing the disease along through work."

Hepatitis A, however, is easily passed on through food preparation. Infected servers who don't wash their hands after using the rest room can sicken customers. But hepatitis A isn't in play in this case. Plus, the health district requires all hospitality workers seeking health cards to get immunized against hepatitis A.

Despite the low risk to visitors, a hospitality workers union is aggressively seeking treatment for its members.

Culinary Local 226, which has 60,000 members in Las Vegas and covers 150,000 locals through its Culinary Health Fund, is mailing letters this weekend to 3,700 workers who visited the Endoscopy Center of Southern Nevada between March 2004 and January. The health fund has arranged free testing on demand at a local lab, so members don't have to worry about testing copays or scheduling appointments, said Bobbette Bond, the fund's director of communications and public policy.

For members who test positive for hepatitis or HIV, the fund will cover blood work to determine whether relatives are infected as well.

Local hotel operators are taking varied approaches to the health scare.

Boyd Gaming Corp. sent a memo to its local employees alerting them to the health district's findings and urging them to go for testing if they visited the center, said spokesman Rob Stillwell.

Boyd officials took the extra measures out of concern for their employees' well-being, and not because they felt tourists were at risk, Stillwell said.

"I don't think tourists need to be concerned," he said.

MGM Mirage is "following the direction of the experts" at the health district and the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and leaving patient notification to those agencies, said spokesman Gordon Absher.

Company officials want to ensure their employees' health care privacy rights are protected, so there's no plan to reach out to workers who had procedures at the center, Absher added. MGM Mirage executives won't take further action unless asked to do so by health agencies.

The Culinary Health Fund, on the other hand, could go beyond arranging testing.

Bond said the union's directors have been discussing voiding the health fund's contract with the Endoscopy Center of Southern Nevada, which was shut down by the city Friday and had its business license to operate suspended.

"There's a strong chance" of the fund dropping coverage there, Bond said.

Contact reporter Jennifer Robison at or (702) 380-4512.