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Hepatitis A sickens 130 in Pittsburgh

/ Source: The Associated Press

At least 130 people contracted hepatitis A in an outbreak at a mall’s Mexican restaurant, authorities said Thursday. At least two people were in critical condition.

The State Health Department is investigating the cause of the outbreak at Chi-Chi’s Mexican restaurant at the Beaver Valley Mall, about 25 miles northwest of Pittsburgh. Officials suspect the virus was spread by a worker who failed to wash his or her hands before handling food.

An estimated 5,000 people dined at the restaurant between Oct. 22 and Sunday.

Health Department spokesman Richard McGarvey said officials ordered 8,000 shots of immune globulin, an antibody treatment that greatly reduces the chances of contracting the disease if given within 14 days after exposure.

About 2,800 people were immunized Wednesday and 2,400 more Thursday, McGarvey said.

A telephone message left for Prandium Inc., the parent company of Chi-Chi’s, was not returned Thursday. The mall’s restaurant has been closed since Monday.

Symptoms of hepatitis A include fever, nausea, diarrhea, jaundice, fatigue, abdominal pain and loss of appetite. The disease usually clears up in about two months.

While the number of cases is at a historic low, outbreaks have occurred throughout the nation. In September, about 280 people in Georgia and Tennessee were sickened by contaminated green onions, including 210 people who ate at restaurants in the Atlanta area.

Pennsylvania health officials declined to discuss the conditions of those sickened by the outbreak. University of Pittsburgh Medical Center spokeswoman Lisa Rossi said two or three people were in intensive care.