Food & Drink

Fast-food chain is third SC restaurant to expose customers to hepatitis, officials say

For the third time in less than two weeks, customers who recently dined at a South Carolina restaurant might have been exposed to the hepatitis A virus, health officials said Monday.

People who dined at the Zaxby’s in a North Charleston outlet mall complex could have been exposed to the virus after an employee tested positive for hepatitis A, the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) said in a news release.

Anyone who ate at the fast-food restaurant between May 20 and 23 “could have been exposed to the virus,” according to the news release.

DHEC said it learned an employee tested positive for hepatitis A on May 31 and began investigating possible exposures. Health officials said the “illness is not a foodborne outbreak,” according to the news release.

This is the third time in 14 days that DHEC has reported customers might have been exposed to hepatitis A after dining at a restaurant where an employee tested positive for the virus.

On May 21, DHEC said people who ate at the Lexington County Wild Wing Cafe location could have been exposed to hepatitis A, The State reported.

DHEC said on May 30 that those who dined at Teriyaki Japan in North Augusta were also exposed to the virus, according to The State.

“The concern here is not the restaurant. It is with a food handler who has hepatitis A infection,” Dr. Linda Bell, MD and state epidemiologist, said in the news release. “The risk of the hepatitis A virus spreading from an infected employee to customers in a restaurant setting is low.”

The restaurant received an A rating from DHEC the last time it was inspected, on March 7, according to the news release.

DHEC said it is working with Zaxby’s on an investigation.

Symptoms of infection include “nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, belly pain or yellowing of the eyes and skin,” and those suffering from the virus “usually become sick within two to six weeks after being exposed,” DHEC said in the release.

DHEC offered guidance for anyone who might have been exposed to the virus.

“As a precaution, in these situations, vaccination should be considered for individuals who were exposed during the time the food handler was contagious,” Bell said in the news release.

For those who have not already been vaccinated, it should be considered for anyone potentially exposed “within two weeks from their date of consuming anything from the restaurant,” DHEC said in the news release.

DHEC recommends anyone who ate at the restaurant during the exposure timeframe should contact a doctor or pharmacy about treatment, according to the news release.

According to DHEC, “hepatitis A is a contagious liver disease caused by the hepatitis A virus. Most people who get hepatitis A feel sick for several weeks, but they usually recover completely and do not have lasting liver damage.”

DHEC declared a statewide hepatitis A outbreak on May 13, based on a steady increase in the number of cases, as 121 cases have been reported since last November. That is more than five times the typical amount of cases reported in a year, according to the news release.

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Noah Feit is a Real Time reporter with The State and McClatchy Carolinas Regional Team. The award-winning journalist has worked for multiple newspapers since starting his career in 1999.
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