Hepatitis A exposure alert spurred by sick Whataburger worker

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Health officials are wanting to alert the public about possible hepatitis A exposure at a Whataburger in Central Austin. A restaurant employee there at the 2800 Guadalupe St. location has been diagnosed with the hepatitis A virus. Hepatitis A is a contagious liver disease that is usually spread when a person ingests something that has been contaminated with the feces of an infected person, including contaminated food or water.

Signs and symptoms of hepatitis A can include the following

  • Fever
  • Fatigue
  • Loss of appetite
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Abdominal discomfort
  • Dark urine
  • Clay-colored bowel movement
  • Joint pain
  • Jaundice (yellowing of the skin or eyes)

Signs and symptoms usually appear two- to four weeks after exposure, although they may happen up to two- to seven weeks after exposure. Children under 6 years of age with hepatitis A often do not have, or show few, signs and symptoms. Children, however, are least likely to get sick because they are typically immunized.

While health officials say transmission of the infection to customers is not likely, the Austin/Travis County Health and Human Services Department is recommending people contact their doctor if they ate at that specific Whataburger between Aug. 7 and Tuesday and fit the following criteria:

  • are 75 years old or older
  • are immune-compromised
  • have chronic liver disease or have had a liver transplant
  • have clotting-factor disorders
  • are experiencing hepatitis A symptoms

“That’s home,” said Damone Nickerson, a UT student and Whataburger customer. “You don’t get that other places. That’s how you know you’re in Texas.”

Damone says students and others often pack this Whataburger. He ate at the restaurant in the timeframe.

“I probably won’t talk to my doctor, just because I’m lazy, but I’ll keep an ear out, see if anyone else got sick,” said Nickerson.

If you do not fall into these risk categories but are still worried or are needing more guidance, officials say you should visit your doctor or call the Austin/Travis County Health and Human Services Department at 512-972-4372. The City’s Public Health Department is also working with the Whataburger Corporation to make sure employees are using the proper control measures at the Guadalupe location.

Whataburger has established a hotline for anyone with questions about the situation. That number is:  844-569-5555. The company released the following statement:

“This report of one employee’s Hepatitis A diagnosis at our 2800 Guadalupe St. location is top priority for us, which is why we have set up a dedicated hotline at 844-569-5555 to answer questions from the community. We invest a tremendous amount of time and effort to ensure food safety, so we have a team actively managing the situation, and we are working closely with the Austin/Travis County Health and Human Services Department. We remain committed to a safe and clean dining experience for our employees and customers, and we have taken several precautionary measures, including providing all of our team members who work at this restaurant a Hepatitis A vaccine at Whataburger’s expense. Again, we encourage those with questions to contact our hotline at 844-569-5555.”

Signs and symptoms usually appear two- to four weeks after exposure, although they may happen up to two- to seven weeks after exposure. Children under 6 years of age with hepatitis A often do not have, or show few, signs and symptoms. Children, however, are least likely to get sick because they are typically immunized.

Health officials say this situation is a good reminder that everyone should wash their hands after using the bathroom and before preparing food to avoid spreading the disease. Find more information online.

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