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Food handler at Umberto’s had hepatitis A

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A medical health officer with the Vancouver Coastal Health Authority said the risk of contracting hepatitis A from a food handler at Il Caminetto di Umberto’s over the Easter weekend is low.

"(The food handler) has been determined to have very good personal hygiene techniques so that to me would indicate that the risk of transmission of this disease to anybody is pretty low," said Dr. Brian O’Connor.

Still, anyone who ate appetizers, salads or desserts at the village restaurant from April 17 to 21 could have been exposed to the virus, which was incubating in the food handler at that time.

The handler did not show any of the symptoms until May 1 and one week later a lab test confirmed the symptoms were hepatitis A.

Hepatitis A is a viral disease, which causes inflammation of the liver. Illness can last for several weeks but people generally recover completely. It can be fatal to the elderly or those with chronic liver disease.

There are a host of symptoms, like nausea, loss of appetite, vomiting, fatigue, fever, abdominal pain, dark coloured urine, light or whitish coloured bowel movements and jaundice in the skin.

"You feel generally unwell," said O’Connor.

"You have a general malaise."

The disease is passed by the fecal-oral route and is generally spread due to imperfect personal hygiene techniques.

Recovery runs its course over a few weeks and there is nearly a 100 per cent success rate without any long-term consequences.

Anyone who develops the symptoms of hepatitis A should contact their doctor immediately. Those symptoms may develop 15-20 days after exposure to the virus.

In this particular case it was too late to offer vaccinations as two weeks had passed from the date the virus could have been exposed to the public at the restaurant to the date of confirmation.

O’Connor said it would be good practice for high profile restaurants to vaccinate their employees against Hepatitis A.

"I would suggest to you that it probably makes really, really good sense for an employer of profile establishments to provide this (vaccine) to their employees who are handling food," he said.

"Who wants to face the sort of thing Capers faced."

Capers, an organic food store in Vancouver, caused widespread concern in the city last year after a food handler was diagnosed with the disease and contaminated foods were discovered in the store. About 6,400 people were vaccinated as a result.

O’Connor also recommended travellers get vaccinated.

"This is not a unique or rare condition," he said.

"We are always aware that there is hepatitis A out there, much of it perhaps contracted as people are travelling around the world and come back."

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