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Hepatitis A scare at NYC restaurant prompts 239 to get vaccinated

By Lorenzo Ferrigno, CNN
April 8, 2013 -- Updated 1349 GMT (2149 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • More than 200 people were vaccinated against hepatitis A after a scare at a NYC restaurant
  • An employee infected with hepatitis A handled desserts at a Manhattan tapas eatery
  • About 450 of 3,000 patrons may have been exposed, health department says

New York (CNN) -- More than 200 people received hepatitis A vaccinations over the weekend after learning that a Manhattan restaurant employee handling sweets was infected with the virus, according to the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.

Patrons of the Alta tapas restaurant in Manhattan's West Village from March 23 to April 2 could have been exposed. Of the 239 people who received vaccinations over the weekend, 31 were restaurant employees.

The restaurant believes that about 3,000 people ate at Alta tapas during the time frame, 15% of whom -- or 450 -- ordered dessert.

As of Friday, there were no confirmed cases, according to the health department, but officials advise guests who ordered desserts during the time in question to get the shot as a precaution.

The health department warned the public about the infected employee Friday and began offering free vaccinations to restaurant patrons through the weekend and will continue to do so Monday.

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The department did not say whether there is concrete evidence that the virus ended up in food.

Efforts to reach the restaurant owner Sunday were unsuccessful.

Hepatitis A spreads by mouth via traces of fecal matter from an infected person, the Health Department said. If people do not wash their hands before handling food, the food could become infected even though it might look clean.

The virus infects the liver and causes jaundice, which is the yellowing of the skin and eyes, fatigue, abdominal pain, nausea and diarrhea. There is no specific treatment once symptoms appear.

Hepatitis A is rarely fatal, although those with liver disease or a weakened immune system could require hospitalization, according to the health department.

An average of 65 cases of Hepatitis A occur in New York City each year, with one or two occurring in food handlers, according to the health department.

The restaurant owner on Friday said that the infected employee is no longer "on the premises."

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CNN's Ben Brumfield and Julia Talanova contributed to this report.

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