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Epidemiologist praises hepatitis response

There have been no new cases reported in Mahoning or Trumbull counties.

SALEM — An epidemiologist with the Ohio Department of Health said cases of hepatitis A from the outbreak at Chi-Chi's in Monaca, Pa., are dwindling because health officials responded quickly to treat anyone who may have been exposed to the virus.

Mike Ruta, an ODH epidemiologist responsible for Columbiana County, said there have been no new cases reported recently and just two secondary cases reported last week.

Secondary cases are those in which a person contracts the hepatitis A virus from another person, in this case from someone who ate at the Monaca Chi-Chi's, Ruta said.

Ruta emphasized that the contamination of green onions has been traced to Mexico, where the green onions were grown and then packed for shipment to the United States. He said there is no evidence that the outbreak was caused by food handlers at the Monaca Chi-Chi's.

"The food handlers got a bad rap from the get-go," he said.

Pleased with response

He said he is impressed with health officials' efforts to immunize people who thought they were exposed to the virus.

"You would think that with 641 primary cases, there would be more, but people receiving the immune globulin injections made a big difference."

Besides the two primary cases reported last week, Columbiana County has 52 primary cases reported so far. Trumbull and Mahoning county health officials said no new cases or secondary cases have been reported in those two counties.

A spokesman for the Pennsylvania Department of Health in Harrisburg could not be reached for comment.

Health officials gave injections of immune globulin to more than 9,000 people in the days after the outbreak. People became ill after eating at the Chi-Chi's in the Beaver Valley Mall during October and through Nov. 2, Pennsylvania health officials said.

They said the hepatitis A virus is found in the stool of people with hepatitis A. It is spread from person to person by putting anything in the mouth that has been contaminated with the stool containing hepatitis A.

The virus is easily spread in areas where there is poor sanitation or poor personal hygiene, health officials said.

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