Montgomery County health officials have temporarily closed a West Norriton restaurant while they investigate a hepatitis A outbreak that has hospitalized seven people and killed at least one.
The county’s Office of Public Health has confirmed nine cases of the highly transmissible infection, and are investigating another two cases. They are also investigating another suspected hepatitis A death, health officials said in a press release.
The cases are associated with Gino’s Ristorante and Pizzeria in West Norriton, but the source of the outbreak is still under investigation. Health officials said the restaurant will be closed “in the interest of public health [...] until further notice” while the probe continues.
In a statement posted on Facebook, a representative from Gino’s said they are “truly devastated and heartbroken for anyone affected by the hepatitis A outbreak.”
They added they are “cooperating completely” with county health officials, and that an inspection of the restaurant found “no evidence of any airborne or transmittable disease.”
”The cleanliness of our facility, our refrigeration, food handling, and water temperatures have been approved,” the statement read. “This is a shock to us as it is to everyone in the community. We have been a family-owned business for over 50 years. We pride ourselves on our reputation. We strive to serve our family and friends the best quality Italian food.”
Health officials said the first hepatitis A exposure likely took place in late November and “no longer presents a risk,” but that they’re still investigating more probable cases that came to the county’s attention after a health advisory on the outbreak was issued earlier this week.
Hepatitis A is a liver infection caused by a virus that spreads through oral contact with infected feces — usually after a person has consumed contaminated food or water. Symptoms include yellow skin or eyes, a loss of appetite, an upset stomach, vomiting, fever, diarrhea, and joint pain.
Symptoms can develop two to seven weeks after an exposure, the health department said. People with hepatitis A are most infectious in the week before they start showing symptoms, said William D. Marler, a lawyer who specializes in food safety and has represented clients in several cases around the country involving hepatitis A outbreaks.
“Kind of the frustrating thing is that you’re most infectious in the week before you show any symptoms. So you might be infectious and not know,” he said.
Hepatitis A is prevented by a vaccine, and state health officials said in their earlier advisory that health-care providers encourage anyone exposed to the virus get a vaccine within two weeks of their exposure. The county health department said thorough hand washing can also prevent the spread of the infection.