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Outbreak News

Chemung reports 4 hepatitis cases

CHRISTINE V. SULAT

Four people in Chemung County have come down with hepatitis A, one a food worker at Maple Lawn Dairy in Ashland and three people who had eaten there.

County Health Department officials are warning people who ate at the restaurant between Sept. 26 and Oct. 10 that they may have been exposed to the virus.

Symptoms include fatigue, fever, poor appetite, abdominal pain, diarrhea, dark urine and yellowing of the skin and eyes.

Anyone showing those symptoms and who may have had contact with someone who has hepatitis A is urged to see their doctor or go to an emergency room for a blood test. If the test results show hepatitis A, the Health Department will be notified, said Robert E. Page, county public health director.

Hepatitis A is generally a mild illness that affects the liver and has an average incubation period of 28 days, according to a Health Department press release.

The disease is rarely fatal and usually only to someone already in bad health, officials said.

The restaurant itself has been given a clean bill of health.

Patricia Hall, supervising sanitarian for the Health Department, said, "The restaurant has cooperated fully in the investigation and reported that proper food handling procedures were in place and understood by the staff."

Page echoed that determination. "We found there was no indication there were unsanitary conditions or practices in place."

Page said that since hepatitis A was confirmed Oct. 10, there have been three to four surprise and very detailed inspections of the restaurant. Each time, the restaurant was using proper hand-washing and sanitation measures and employees were wearing gloves, he said.

The hepatitis A virus is found only in human feces and is transmitted through hand-to-mouth contact, Page said.

Jamie Brand-Fortier, general manager of Maple Lawn Dairy, said the employee who was diagnosed with the virus became ill Oct. 10 and was diagnosed right away.

"I notified the Health Department right after I found out," she said.

The worker, a man, is back to work with a clean bill of health and "is devastated. He feels responsible, even though he doesn't know where he got it," Brand-Fortier said, adding, "He's a very clean person."

There is no medicine or antibiotic to treat hepatitis A, the Health Department said. An injection of gamma globulin can provide some protection to prevent the illness but only if administered within 14 days of exposure. It is being administered to close contacts of recent cases, Page said.

Brand-Fortier said all Maple Lawn employees have been tested for hepatitis A and been given gamma globulin shots. No one else has shown symptoms, she said.

Hepatitis A is more common than people realize, Page said. There are usually more than a thousand cases a year in New York.

The county worked with state Health Department physicians and epidemiologists on the investigation.

Following state guidelines and because Maple Lawn had been following sanitary procedures, there was no need to make a general public announcement before now, Page said.

"Just because someone ate there doesn't necessarily mean they were exposed," he said.

Notices about the hepatitis cases have been posted at Maple Lawn.

"We know it may affect our business, and people may be scared," said Brand-Fortier, whose parents own the restaurant.

"But we'd rather let our customers know. We do follow all sanitary procedures to the letter. If any of our customers have questions or we can help them, we have information here."

More on this outbreak: Maple Lawn Dairy Hepatitis A Outbreak

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