Local restaurant closes one day after hepatitis report

A local restaurant closed Wednesday after one of its employees was diagnosed with Hepatitis A, but reopened Thursday after the facility was “sanitized.”

Amazing Joe’s, 2607 Central Ave., closed on Wednesday after the Bartholomew County Health Department confirmed that a female employee there has been diagnosed with Hepatitis A, said Nick Grams, restaurant manager.

The health department has not released information about the employee or issued any announcement to customers who may have eaten at the restaurant about the employee being diagnosed or what impact the diagnosis might have on customers’ health.

Hepatitis A is a vaccine-preventable, communicable disease of the liver caused by the hepatitis A virus (HAV), according to the federal Centers for Disease Control. It is usually transmitted person-to-person through the fecal-oral route or consumption of contaminated food or water, according to the federal agency.

Most adults with Hepatitis A have symptoms, including fatigue, low appetite, stomach pain, nausea, and jaundice, that usually resolve within two months of infection; most children less than 6 years of age do not have symptoms or have an unrecognized infection, according to the CDC. Antibodies produced in response to Hepatitis A infection last for life and protect against reinfection. The best way to prevent hepatitis A infection is to get vaccinated, according to the CDC.

Dr. Brian Niedbalski, Bartholomew County Health Officer, said the state health department is planning to release a statement about the restaurant employee being diagnosed with the virus today.

When the Republic contacted Niedbalski Thursday night after receiving a tip from the public, he said the health department will have a Hepatitis A vaccination clinic at the FairOaks Mall from noon to 6 p.m. on Monday for customers who might have eaten at the restaurant on selected dates in April. Those dates include April 17 through 22, and April 24 through 26.

“The odds of contracting Hepatitis A (from the employee) are fairly low, he said. People who should consider being vaccinated are those who worked with the employee or those who visited the restaurant or consumed food there on those dates in April, he said. The vaccines will be offered free by the health department, he said.

The Hepatitis A virus is passed through poor hygiene and lack of handwashing, Niedbalski said. Individuals can contract it by touching something that the infected person touched, including a door handle or surface, or eating food that has been handled by the infected individual.

If a person obtains the vaccine, the odds are greatly reduced that the infection will occur, or if it does occur, it will be a milder case than if the person wasn’t vaccinated, Niedbalski said.

Niedbalski allowed that as of Thursday night, he was the only physician who knew that a Hepatitis A case had been reported at a local restaurant.

In a typed statement from the restaurant provided by Grams, the restaurant said the health and safety of the restaurant’s team members and guests is a top priority.

“When we learned that one of our team members in Columbus, Indiana was diagnosed with Hepatitis A, we immediately began our collaboration with the Bartholomew County Health Department,” the statement reads. Grams confirmed this occurred on Wednesday.

“The individual affected has not worked at the restaurant since the diagnosis and we wish her a speedy recovery and return,” the statement reads. “We effectively took all necessary measures requested by the health department and proactively took extra precautionary steps by temporarily closing the restaurant and utilizing that time to clean and sanitize all areas of the restaurant,” the statement reads.

Grams said the process involved cleaning the restaurant with a bleach-based solution based on an advisory from the health department.

Also on Wednesday, the restaurant made arrangements with the health department to vaccinate half of the restaurant’s 45-member staff who had not been previously vaccinated, Grams said.

The infected employee has worked at the restaurant for about a year, but Grams said he was not allowed to say whether she was a server, hostess or worked in the kitchen.

All other inquiries about the employee diagnosis are being sent to the health department, said Grams and Mike Robinson, president of Veritas Management Inc.

Grams and Robinson declined to comment about why there was no notice posted at the restaurant to customers about the infected employee when the restaurant reopened on Thursday night, and why there was no notification to customers who may have eaten at the restaurant on the April dates to notify them of the need to be vaccinated or seen by their doctor.

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For information about the Amazing Joe’s employee being diagnosed with Hepatitis A, call the Bartholomew County Health Department at 812-379-1555 or Amazing Joe’s at 812-378-2130.