SPRINGFIELD, Mo. — Health officials worry that as many as 5,000 people could have been exposed to hepatitis A at a Red Robin restaurant in Missouri after a worker was diagnosed with the virus.
Springfield-Greene County Health Department officials received a report Tuesday about the illness, which can affect the liver, and worked with state and federal officials to get enough vaccine shipped so people who went to the restaurant May 8 to 16 can be immunized.
The goal is to get as many customers vaccinated within 14 days of their possible exposure, officials said Wednesday. Otherwise, the shot won't work, so they've set up clinics through the Memorial Day holiday weekend.
"Upon being informed of the incident, the Springfield Red Robin took all safety measures to ensure the well being of our guests and team members including arranging the inoculation of all Springfield team members with the immune globulin prophylaxis shot," Red Robin Gourmet Burgers (RRGB) officials said in a statement.
The restaurant now is considered safe, health department officials said. The city of Springfield, in southwest Missouri, has about 160,000 residents.
Typically, hepatitis A is spread from the feces of an infected person to some food or drink that another person consumes. That's why proper hand washing after using the bathroom offers the first line of defense.
Hepatitis A does not always produce symptoms, and adults are more likely to have symptoms than children. Symptoms include nausea, vomiting, fever and yellowing of the skin or eyes.
Most cases of hepatitis A infection resolve themselves in a few weeks and do not cause permanent liver damage. About 10% to 15% of those who have the virus have a relapse of symptoms at some point in the six months following its onset, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Since the early 1990s the number of acute hepatitis A cases nationwide has fallen dramatically from more than 30,000 in the early 1990s to fewer than 1,700, attributed in great part to the introduction of the hepatitis A vaccine.
Nationwide, the CDC estimates that about 2,700 people came down with acute cases of the disease in 2011; about 1,400 cases were reported, an average of 28 cases per state.
• A Red Robin employee in Stroudsburg, Pa., also was diagnosed May 5 with hepatitis A. The Pennsylvania Department of Health did not consider the diagnosis a risk to the public though officials did say customers who dined there April 16 to May 5 should contact the department with concerns.
• A Teavana worker in Indianapolis may have exposed shoppers to the virus on three occasions in April while preparing tea samples, said Marion County Public Health Department officials, who told customers to watch for symptoms and offered vaccines for those who had been more recently exposed. Teavana is owned by Starbucks (SBUX).
• A Papa John's (PZZA) employee in Charlotte, N.C., may have infected customers of the pizza shop March 27 to April 7, according to the Mecklenburg County Health Department, which had more than 700 people come to vaccination clinics not far from the restaurant.
Contributing: Sony Hocklander, Jon Shorman and Stephen Herzog, Springfield (Mo.) News-Leader