Fayetteville, N.C. — Employees and anyone who visited the Olive Garden restaurant at 234 N. McPherson Church Road in Fayetteville in late July and early August may have been exposed to hepatitis A through a restaurant employee, Cumberland County health officials said Tuesday.
Anyone who visited the restaurant on July 25, 26, 28, 29 or 31 or Aug. 1, 2 and 8 should receive an injection of hepatitis A immune globulin or vaccine immediately, said county health department Director Buck Wilson.
Patrons who visited the restaurant prior to July 25 may have been exposed as well, according to health officials. While the vaccine is not effective for those who visited before July 25, it is important to recognize the signs and symptoms.
The early signs and symptoms of hepatitis A appear two to six weeks after exposure and commonly include mild fever, loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, fatigue, pain in the upper right side of the abdomen, dark urine, light color stools and jaundice – yellowness of eyes or skin.
The disease varies in severity, with mild cases lasting two weeks or less and more acute cases lasting four to six weeks or longer. Some individuals, especially children, may not develop jaundice or any symptoms and may have an illness so mild that it can go unnoticed. However, even mildly ill persons can be highly infectious.
People with an illness suggestive of hepatitis should consult a physician even if symptoms are mild, officials said.
Those who visited the Olive Garden at the dates in question can get an immunization through a walk-in clinic at the Cumberland County Public Health Department, at 1235 Ramsey St., starting Tuesday. The walk-in clinic will be open Wednesday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., officials said. People should bring shot records with them.
Both immune globulin – also called gamma globulin – and hepatitis A vaccine can prevent infection if given within 14 days of exposure to the virus. People must receive the vaccine immediately. Those who are current on the hepatitis A vaccine are considered protected from the virus, health officials said.
Anyone with questions and concerns can call the health department at 910-433-3824.
The age-appropriate dose of hepatitis A vaccine is recommended for healthy people from 1 to 40 years old. Hepatitis A immune globulin is recommended for infants younger than 12 months, people over age 40 and people diagnosed with chronic liver disease or who have been advised to avoid the vaccine due to potential adverse reactions.
Health department medical staff will assess people at the clinic and give the appropriate immunization.
Wilson said the department has plenty of the general pediatric hepatitis A vaccines, but they do not have the hepatitis A immune globulin. They expect to have the immune globulin by noon Wednesday.
Wilson said the county health department saw between 200 and 300 people seeking hepatitis A vaccinations on Tuesday.
Olive Garden released a statement Tuesday and said it immediately contacted the health department upon learning of the employee's diagnosis.
"The ill employee has not worked in the restaurant since being diagnosed and will not return until officially cleared by a physician and the health department. We are not aware of anyone else becoming ill, and we’ve been working closely with the Health Department to ensure we have all of the right processes in place to protect our employees and guests," restaurant officials said.
Hepatitis A virus is usually spread when a person ingests fecal matter – even in microscopic amounts – from contact with objects, food or drinks contaminated by feces or stool of an infected person. Persons are at increased risk of acquiring hepatitis A when they have been in close and continuous contact with an infected individual, particularly in a household.
Fecal matter can remain on the hands unless hands are washed often and thoroughly.
Careful hand-washing is key to preventing spread of hepatitis A, officials said, and should include vigorous washing of hands with soap and running water for minimum of 20 seconds. All surfaces should be washed, including the back of the hands, wrists, between fingers and under fingernails, they said.