SALT LAKE CITY — Hundreds of customers at a downtown Salt Lake restaurant may have been exposed to hepatitis A from late July through mid-August, and the incident is believed to be related to an ongoing outbreak of the illness in Utah, health authorities said Monday.
A worker infected with the virus "potentially handled certain food or beverage items" from July 25 to Aug. 15 at The New Yorker Restaurant, 60 W. Market St., the Salt Lake County Health Department said.
An estimated 650 customers could have been exposed, according to the department. The county has reached out to customers "for whom contact information was available," department spokesman Nicholas Rupp said in a news release.
The two-week window in which a hepatitis A vaccine can be effective after exposure has already passed, "so those individuals should watch for symptoms of hepatitis A and see their health care provider if they are concerned," Rupp said.
"The incubation period for hepatitis A is two to seven weeks, so potentially affected customers should watch for symptoms until Oct. 3," he said.
As of Monday, no additional hepatitis A cases had been reported to the county that could be traced to the infected employee.
Symptoms of hepatitis A, a liver infection, include jaundice, vomiting, fever and loss of appetite. It can be spread through tiny traces of an infected person's feces, making it prone to spreading through contaminated food or drink.
Any customer who could have been affected may call the Salt Lake County Health Department with questions at 385-468-INFO (4636).
According to Rupp, the New Yorker Restaurant is "cooperating fully with the health department's investigation and response" and "has sanitized the affected restaurant areas according to health department recommendations."
He added that "before this exposure occurred, the New Yorker had also offered their employees the hepatitis A vaccine, but the infected employee chose not to receive it."
A hepatitis A vaccination is not required for restaurant workers in Salt Lake County, except in cases where it is confirmed a fellow employee has been exposed to the virus. Any New Yorker Restaurant employees who had not already received the vaccine are now required to get it, Rupp said.
“Other food service establishments should also consider requiring that their employees be vaccinated against hepatitis A,” Dr. Dagmar Vitek, medical director of the Salt Lake County Health Department, said in a statement. “The cost of vaccination is minimal compared to the cost of a possible exposure at your establishment.”
The county believes the New Yorker worker's infection is connected to a hepatitis A outbreak in Utah that has caused 277 people to fall ill and led to 152 hospitalizations and three deaths since May 2017.
Of all cases believed to be related to the outbreak, 191 were reported in Salt Lake County.
The New Yorker is the fifth eatery along the Wasatch Front whose customers have been warned this year about a possible hepatitis A exposure. In January, health authorities issued warnings to customers of an Olive Garden and Sonic Drive-In in Spanish Fork, as well as a 7-Eleven in West Jordan. In April, customers of an Edible Arrangements in Murray were likewise told they could have been exposed.
The two-shot hepatitis A vaccine is more than 99 percent successful in preventing infection with the virus for about 20 to 25 years, Rupp has said previously. Beginning in July 2002, children entering kindergarten in Utah have been required to get a hepatitis A vaccine.
Washing hands after using the restroom and before eating or preparing food can also go a long way in warding off the virus, health officials say.