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As many as 3,000 people could have been exposed to hepatitis by a restaurant employee who worked while suffering a mild case of the virus, according to health officials.

Twelve cases of hepatitis A have been diagnosed since Tuesday among workers and patrons at Coco's Restaurant in DeWitt, Onondaga County Health Commissioner James Miller said Friday. Three people diagnosed with hepatitis were employees, he said.

Miller said the patrons with the greatest risk of contracting the liver-attacking disease were those who ate from the salad bar or had salad bar offerings between May 3 and May 30, and those who had drinks with ice, ice cream and desserts on June 2.

The employee with the primary case had it only mildly and did not miss any work. Health officials did not learn about the outbreak until Tuesday.

Because inoculations must be given within 14 days of exposure, the health department learned of the outbreak too late to stage a gamma globulin shot clinic, Miller said.

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