PORT CHESTER, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) — A hepatitis scare shut down a popular restaurant in Port Chester.
As CBS2’s Brian Conybeare reported, several customers who ate at the upscale bartaco on Willett Avenue came down with Hepatitis A – after an employee worked there while infectious.
The Westchester County Health Department says anyone who visited the restaurant between Oct. 12 and Oct. 23 is urged to get preventative treatment immediately.
The treatment is only effective if given within two weeks of exposure, so Oct. 26 is the last day for those who dined there on the 12th.
The health department is offering free preventive treatment at the County Center in White Plains for anyone who ate or drank at the restaurant during that time period.
The treatment was being offered from 4 p.m. to 7:45 p.m. Thursday, and will be offered again Friday from noon to 4:45 p.m. and Saturday from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Anyone who may have been exposed can also visit their own health care provider for treatment.
On Thursday, hundreds of people turned out for the hastily-arranged vaccination clinic. Meanwhile, workers at bartaco in Port Chester were all wearing latex gloves as a precaution and giving the restaurant a thorough cleaning after the waiter with hepatitis A infected at least four customers in September.
The hot spot shut down temporarily this week, but the restaurant was back open on Thursday. Still, the wildly popular taco lounge was virtually empty at lunchtime Thursday even though it got the green light to reopen.
“It’s very scary,” said bartaco customer Laurie Singer Matthias.
Matthias is a regular who ate at bartaco over the weekend, and got a preventative vaccine in her left arm from her doctor on Thursday.
“It’s a simple thing to go out on a Saturday night, you know, to go grab a taco and a margarita, and you’re going to your favorite place — and later, you find out that you’ve been exposed to something that is potentially dangerous,” she said. “It makes you feel very vulnerable.”
Hepatitis A is a viral illness that affects the liver and can cause flu-like symptoms.
“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” Dr. Sherlita Amler, Commissioner of Health, said in a statement. “There are no special medications used to treat a person once symptoms appear, but Hepatitis A transmission to others can be prevented through proper hand washing.”
While outside the window to receive preventative treatment, the health department also says anyone who may have visited the restaurant between Aug. 22 and Oct. 11 should also contact their doctor immediately if they experience symptoms.
“In rare instances, it can be fatal,” Amler said.
Symptoms usually appear within 28 days of exposure, with a range of 15 to 50 days. The health department says most people recover within a few weeks.
The first case from bartaco was reported two weeks ago. A second case was reported Oct. 16, and the only thing they had in common was having eaten at bartaco, Amler said.
It was not until Wednesday that they found the sick worker. Despite all employees being vaccinated, one woman said she would never go back.
“That worries me, because the place is not cheap — and you’re going there for a nice experience and the experience is going to be hepatitis?” said Edith Rivera. “I don’t think you want that.”
But Matthias may give the food she loves a second chance.
“I feel creeped out a little bit, you know, and I probably would go back,” she said. “But it’ll be a little while.”
The restaurant says it has also set up a dedicated phone line for anyone with any questions at 844-617-8242 from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.
“We are committed to food safety and the quality of our food,” Pam Ritz, a bartaco spokeswoman, said in a statement.
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