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Niagara Falls Taco Bell worker had hepatitis A; free vaccinations for customers

Anyone who ate food from the Taco Bell at 7300 Niagara Falls Blvd. in Niagara Falls from Nov. 21 to Dec. 1, or who visited the restroom there during that time, should get a hepatitis A shot, officials said Wednesday.

A medical test confirmed a worker there had the highly contagious virus.

The Niagara County Health Department will offer a free vaccination clinic from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Thursday and Friday in the Doris Jones Family Resource Center, 3001 Ninth St., Niagara Falls.

"The person worked not only in the food preparation area, but also in the drive-thru lane," Daniel J. Stapleton, Niagara County public health director, said Wednesday. "As soon as we heard he was a food handler, we kicked it into high gear."

Hepatitis A is one of the contagious diseases that doctors and clinics must report to the state Health Department. The state passed the word to the county Health Department Tuesday.

Stapleton said his department's workers inspected the Taco Bell Tuesday, but found no health code violations.

Wednesday, they continued interviewing colleagues of the infected employee, who hasn't worked at the restaurant since Sunday.

"We found out who was working with this person. The person's a full-time employee," Stapleton said.

So far, no other hepatitis A cases connected with the Taco Bell have been reported, and the restaurant remains open for business, Stapleton said.

"When our franchisee of this Niagara Falls, N.Y., restaurant learned that one of the team members was diagnosed, they immediately started working in lockstep with Taco Bell and health officials to protect the health of employees and customers," a statement from Taco Bell's media relations department said. "The restaurant was thoroughly sanitized and all team members will be offered vaccinations."

"Hepatitis A usually spreads when a person unknowingly ingests the virus from objects, food, or drinks contaminated by small, undetected amounts of stool from an infected person. This can happen from eating at a restaurant, sharing food or drink, or eating when traveling in one of the many countries outside the United States with a high hepatitis A infection rate," the Health Department said in a news release.

Hepatitis A is curable, and those who have had the disease are immune for life. But if untreated, it can be fatal in rare instances, Stapleton said.

The immunization is effective in curing the disease if administered within 14 days of exposure.

Those who ate food from the Taco Bell location between Nov. 13 and 20 have passed the time period for the shot to cure the disease, but they should monitor themselves and their families for symptoms for 50 days and seek medical attention if warranted.

Symptoms include fever, fatigue, loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, dark urine, clay-colored stools, joint pain and jaundice, which is yellowing of the skin and eyes.

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