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Maine CDC: Hepatitis A identified in Saco food service worker

The Maine CDC’s assessment of the Saco House of Pizza employee's illness determined that restaurant patrons and employees may be at risk for hepatitis A infection.
Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

SACO, Maine — The Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced possible exposure to acute hepatitis A at a Saco pizza restaurant Tuesday afternoon.

The Maine CDC says the virus has been identified in a worker who handled food at Saco House of Pizza while infectious from Aug. 5 through Aug. 21. The Maine CDC says while the employee was not in charge of preparing food, the individual had access to food in the kitchen.

Stacy Hill, one of the owners of Saco House of Pizza, however, tells NEWS CENTER Maine the employee who tested positive for hepatitis A is a part-time delivery driver who doesn't handle or prepare food. Hill says the worker delivers the food when it's packaged and sealed in delivery containers, and doesn't directly handle any food "in the kitchen," as the Maine CDC states. 

The Maine CDC has not commented on the discrepancy. 

Hepatitis A is a vaccine-preventable, contagious liver disease caused by the hepatitis A virus. Symptoms range from mild illness to a severe sickness that requires hospitalization and can last several months. Most adults with hepatitis A have a sudden onset of symptoms such as tiredness, low appetite, stomach pain, nausea, dark urine, and jaundice (yellowing of the skin and eyes). Most children younger than 6 years old do not have symptoms or have an unrecognized infection.

Hepatitis A can be spread through contaminated food or water, especially in food prepared by a person who is infected. Symptoms begin to show 15-50 days after exposure to the virus. An infected person can spread the virus to others from approximately two weeks before symptoms start until one week after symptoms end.

RELATED: Hepatitis A cases on the rise in three Maine counties, state says

The Maine CDC’s assessment of the employee's illness determined that restaurant patrons and employees may be at risk for hepatitis A infection.

Out of an abundance of caution, Maine CDC recommends that anyone who may have eaten food prepared at Saco House of Pizza or worked at the restaurant from Aug. 18 through Aug. 21 promptly receive the hepatitis A vaccine, as there is a 14-day window during which prophylaxis is effective after exposure. This includes anyone who may have had take-out, delivery, or curbside pickup of food from the restaurant.

The Maine CDC says anyone who visited the restaurant from Aug. 5 through Aug. 17, is outside the timeframe for which prophylaxis is recommended but should watch for symptoms and seek medical attention if symptoms develop.

The owners of Saco House of Pizza release the following statement:

“Thank you to all our customers for your patronage and continued loyal support of our small business.  We would like to clarify any confusion you may have that was brought on by a recent press release pertaining to health circumstances of an employee.  We want to assure you this employee was a part-time delivery driver who never prepared or handled food in our kitchen.  These important facts were apparently omitted from the press release.  This employee has not been working at our business for the past two weeks. 

We have been successfully serving the public for over 23 years and food safety is our number one priority.  We go above and beyond to follow all safety guidelines published or recommended by the State of Maine.  All of our kitchen staff wear gloves at all times when preparing or handling food.  Masks are also a requirement for every employee that enters into the kitchen.  There is a zero-tolerance policy for any employee to come to work sick.  Hand washing and sanitizing stations are available throughout the restaurant and are consistently used.  We value all of our customers and want to apologize for any confusion or concern this press release may have caused you and your families.”

Individuals with compromised immune systems or children younger than one-year-old who visited the restaurant during this time may benefit from hepatitis A immune globulin (IG), upon consultation with their health care providers.

The Maine CDC says the best way to prevent hepatitis A infection is to get vaccinated.

Health care providers are encouraged to remain vigilant for hepatitis A infection in persons with consistent symptoms.

For more information on hepatitis A, visit www.cdc.gov/hepatitis/hav/index.htm.