Hepatitis A scare at NYC eatery prompts Health Department to urge vaccines

New York City health officials are urging some patrons of an upscale restaurant to get vaccinated for hepatitis A, because of potential contamination from an infected employee who prepared pastries.

The New York City Department of Health said Friday that anyone who ate dessert at the Alta Restaurant in New York City's Greenwich Village between March 23 and April 2 may have been exposed to the infectious disease, and should get a vaccine as a "precautionary measure," CBS New York reported.

"The best option for everybody is to see their primary care doctor," Dr. Jay Varma, Deputy Commissioner For Disease Control at the NYC Dept. of Health & Mental Hygiene, told the 1010 WINS radio station Friday night, according to CBS New York.

Hepatitis A is a "highly contagious" liver infection caused by a virus, according to the Mayo Clinic, that people are most likely to contract through contaminated food or drinking water.

An estimated 3,000 people visited the restaurant during the 10-day window, 450 of whom -- or 15 percent -- may have had dessert, prompting the health department to issue a vaccine recommendation. All employees of the restaurant are also receiving precautionary vaccines.

"The restaurant owners have been cooperating fully with the Health Department. They've allowed our investigators to interview the staff there, to inspect the restaurant, food-handling practices and to provide us with contact information for people who ate there," Varma said.

Restaurant manager Manny Solano told the station that the employee preparing pastries had traveled to Mexico where she was infected with the virus. She reportedly alerted the manager of her infection once she found out, and the restaurant then notified the health department. She has since been cleared to return back to work and the restaurant re-opened over the weekend, CBS New York added.

People with hepatitis A are urged to avoid preparing food for others while they are actively infected, the Mayo Clinic says, because they can easily pass the infection to others this way.

Symptoms of the disease include fatigue, nausea and vomiting, abdominal pain or discomfort (especially in the area, which is on the right side below the ribs), loss of appetite, low-grade fever and yellowing of the eyes and skin.

Not everyone with hepatitis A will develop symptoms, however, a small number of those infected may experience long-term complications like liver failure, which may require a transplant. Less than one percent of those infected will die from the disease, according to the city health department.

"If people experience symptoms, they should see a doctor immediately,"Health Commissioner Dr. Thomas Farley, said in a press release. "This incident serves as an important reminder to always wash your hands thoroughly to prevent the spread of disease."