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Hepatitis A spreads to country club from trendy restaurant

New York’s Westchester County Department of Health Friday announced an ongoing hepatitis A outbreak has spread to the tony Sleepy Hollow Country Club.

The club includes a 27-hole golf course on 338 acres.

County health officials were already working to contain the scope of hepatitis A exposure linked to a favorite Port Chester restaurant called Bartaco. The restaurant was temporarily closed in late October when the county was notified that a Bartaco employee had contracted Hepatitis A.

The latest restaurant employee with hepatitis A worked at the country club’s Grill Room. “The health department learned late last night (Thursday night) that an employee with the illness worked in the club’s Grill Room while infectious,” according to an alert posted by the county health department.

Consequently, public health officials are encouraging anyone who ate or drank anything at the Grill Room from Oct. 27 to Nov. 4 to get the post-exposure vaccine. The Grill Room employee was infected by one of the people who was exposed to hepatitis A at Bartaco, according to county officials.

The Westchester County Department of Health already had vaccine clinics scheduled for Friday and Saturday at 134 Court Street in White Plains.

“While the greatest risk is to those who ate or drank at the Grill Room, in an abundance of caution, the health department recommends preventive treatment for anyone who ate or drank at the club between Oct. 27 and Nov.,” said Dr. Sherlita Amler, Westchester’s health commissioner.

She said Hepatitis A is “generally a mild illness whose symptoms include fatigue, fever, poor appetite, abdominal pain, diarrhea, dark urine, light-colored stool, and jaundice, which is the yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes.”

Rarely fatal, symptoms of Hepatitis A typically surface within 28 days and can last up to 50 days.

Hepatitis A is usually transmitted by food and drinks handled by someone who is already infected. Feces from an infected person can also spread the illness. Proper hand washing is the best prevention measure, according to the health commissioner.

A post-exposure vaccine can prevent the onset of the illness, but only if obtained within two weeks of exposure.

Before the outbreak spread to the country club, Westchester County already had vaccinated about 3,000 people at a cost to taxpayers that could run anywhere from $75,000 to $210,000.

Seattle food safety attorney Bill Marler suggests the restaurant should reimburse the county for those costs.

“Bartaco should now step up and reimburse the department of public health for the cost of vaccinating over 3,000 people,” Marler said. “Other companies in similar situations have paid for their error and relieved the taxpayers of the cost burden.”

The restaurant, which voluntarily closed Wednesday, was open again Friday night with regulars filling its parking lot in support, according to local media reports.

The country club closed its kitchens on Friday for sanitization and was also vaccinating all of its employees for hepatitis A.

“This is a difficult situation, but we have taken steps above and beyond the health department guidelines,” said Eric Rule, the club’s general manager.

Editor’s note: Bill Marler is publisher of Food Safety News.

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