CHEEKTOWAGA – Erie County government officials are alerting patrons of Doino’s Pizzeria Bar and Grill on Harlem Road that they could have been exposed to Hepatitis A between August 20th and September 3rd.
Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz announced Monday that a “minor breakout” of the virus was discovered by the county’s Health Department the week of September 24th after three people presented with symptoms.
“Three individuals who ate and consumed food from Doino’s were in all likelihood infected at the same time, and they all ate at the same time approximately,” said Mr. Poloncarz.
Through Health Department interviews with staff members at Doino’s, it was determined that a former food handler was identified as the carrier of the virus.
“We believed that the individual that was the food handler had been previously interviewed with regards to Hepatitis A, but did not indicate to us that they were a food handler at that establishment. If they had, we may have been able to avoid this,” added Mr. Poloncarz.
Hepatitis A is a highly contagious disease that attacks the liver. It is the most common type of hepatitis reported in the United States. The Hepatitis A virus is usually spread from person to person by putting something in the mouth that has been contaminated with the stool of a person with hepatitis A. This type of transmission is called the “fecal-oral” route.
The symptoms of hepatitis A may include an abrupt onset of fever, malaise, loss of appetite, nausea, stomach pain, dark-colored urine and jaundice (a yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes). The disease is rarely fatal and most people recover in a few weeks without any complications. Adults have signs and symptoms of illness more often than children. Infants and young children tend to have very mild symptoms and are less likely to develop jaundice than are older children and adults. Not everyone who is infected will have all of the symptoms.
The symptoms commonly appear within 28 days of exposure, with a range of 15-50 days. The county Health Department asks that anyone symptomatic within 50-days of eating at Doino’s should seek medical evaluation for the virus.
The Doino family welcomed Cheektowaga Chronicle into their establishment Monday afternoon a few hours after the county released the news. We were shown the bar, the kitchen area, and food storage area and were allowed to take pictures.
“We’re blown away by it,” said Eileen Doino, owner of Doino’s. “It’s terrible, and I can’t even tell you the words. I put so much into this restaurant to make it great and to have something like this happen – it really hurts.”
The Doino’s invested a great deal of money to rehabilitate the former Peter K’s establishment. They added a new walk-in cooler, a wrap around porch, and most importantly according to Ms. Doino, cleaned and sanitized the whole place.
“I’m such a clean fanatic, and I’m OCD. I have the cleanest kitchen going,” added Ms. Doino. “We’re told there is a big rise of Hepatitis A and we just happen to be in the middle of it right now.”
She says the county Health Department can’t share that much information about the food handler who tested positive for the virus and says she can’t ask anyone about their health problems.
“We wouldn’t know, we just wouldn’t know,” she said. “You can’t tell [if they’re sick], and you can’t even ask – they don’t have to tell you anything. It’s the law.”
Now, she is making sure that all six of her employees are vaccinated against the virus. A food handler says the employees will be getting vaccinated Tuesday. A bartender told Cheektowaga Chronicle she was already vaccinated in 2015 as a requirement to graduate from bartender school.
Ms. Doino feels that health officials dropped the ball by not mandating a Hepatitis A vaccine to food service employees.
“I think they should mandate the Hepatitis A shot and then everybody would have to have it, and no other restaurant would have to go through what we’re going through because it is devastating,” added Ms. Doino. “From now on I would never hire a cook, or server, or bartender unless they had a Hepatitis A shot.”
For now, the Doino’s are recovering from what she calls a “shot to the gut” and hopes this blip doesn’t tarnish the good reputation they have established in the Cheektowaga community.
“We’re the same clean restaurant. We’re all well. Please come back,” Ms. Doino said.
An on-site inspection report performed by the county Health Department on September 26th found three “non-critical” violations. Fruit flies were found at the bar, the men’s room sink lacks hot water and the cold water faucet doesn’t stay on for 15 seconds, and an exterior vent hood was dripping grease on to the ground.
According to the New York State Department of Health, food service employers can offer a hepatitis A vaccine to their employees if they wish, but most public health authorities prefer not to make it mandatory for the following reasons:
- There is no evidence that food service workers are at any greater risk of acquiring hepatitis A than are people in other occupations.
- Only 2-3 percent of all hepatitis A cases are acquired through restaurant food.
- Employee turnover in some segments of the foodservice industry is high, making it impractical to vaccinate staff.
- Emphasis on careful hand washing, use of disposable gloves and not working when ill are measures that can greatly minimize the risk of spreading hepatitis A and a number of other infections.
- Hepatitis A vaccine would be strongly recommended for food service workers in a county or region where a community-wide outbreak has been recognized.
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