Health officials put Taco Bell patrons on alert for hepatitis A symptoms

CONCORD (AP) – People who ate at a Taco Bell in southern New Hampshire are being urged to watch for signs of hepatitis A after a restaurant employee was diagnosed with the virus.

State health officials said Friday that anyone who ate at the restaurant in Derry between Feb. 7 and Feb. 21 should call their doctors if they experience symptoms that could include fever, tiredness, loss of appetite, nausea, stomach pain, dark urine and yellowing of the skin and eyes.

Officials said those who ate at the restaurant between Feb 15. and Feb. 21 also should consider receiving an injection of immune globulin, a treatment that greatly lessens the chances of acquiring the disease but is only effective if given within two weeks of exposure.

Unlike a recent outbreak at a Chi Chi’s restaurant in Pennsylvania, which was traced back to contaminated green onions, there is no indication that the Derry case has any connection to tainted food products, officials said.

“While there is only one case involved and at this point we do not feel the public should be alarmed, we are closely monitoring this situation and take this matter very seriously,” said John Stephen, commissioner of the Department of Health and Human Services.

The state epidemiologist, Dr. Jesse Greenblatt, said a female Taco Bell worker has been diagnosed hepatitis A, is a liver infection transmitted when a person ingests food contaminated with fecal matter. Poor hand-washing is often to blame.

Older people are more likely to show symptoms than children, though infected people often show no signs of the disease. It can be severe for the elderly or those with chronic liver disease, but most people recover completely.

The Department of Health and Human Service’s Office of Community and Public Health will be holding clinics to provide immune globulin injections to the public. Anyone who previously was vaccinated against hepatitis A or was infected in the past is not at risk and doesn’t need an injection.