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Hepatitis A risk for Milan, Ill. fast food patrons

Associated Press

July 20, 2009

ROCK ISLAND, Ill. - Authorities in northwestern Illinois are trying to figure out why a case of hepatitis A in a McDonald's food handler went unreported for more than three weeks.

An estimated 10,000 people who ate at a McDonald's in Milan are being urged to get preventive treatment for the virus, which can cause fever and abdominal pain.

At least 20 cases of hepatitis A have been confirmed in five Illinois counties, said Rock Island County Health Department spokeswoman Theresa Foes.

An infected McDonald's employee came to work on seven days in July, possibly spreading the virus to patrons. Another McDonald's worker was diagnosed June 17, but health officials didn't know about that case until July 13, said Illinois Department of Public Health spokeswoman Melaney Arnold.

In a written statement forwarded by McDonald's corporate office, franchisee Kevin Murphy said the restaurant learned of the case from health officials on July 13. Murphy operates the Milan restaurant.

"Once we were notified of this matter by the Rock Island County Health Department on July 13, we took immediate corrective action to address their concerns," Murphy said in the statement. "No one ill knowingly worked in our restaurant once we were notified."

The restaurant was closed three days last week and reopened Saturday.

The hepatitis A virus can cause liver swelling but rarely causes lasting damage. Symptoms include fatigue, abdominal pain, vomiting and fever and can appear from 15 to 50 days after exposure.

People who consumed food or beverages at the Milan restaurant from July 6-10 or July 13-14 were being treated free Monday and Tuesday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. at Rock Island High School.

People ages 1 to 40 were receiving hepatitis A vaccine. Others were receiving immune globulin, a substance rich in antibodies that's given as a shot.

The massive vaccination clinic required help from other public health agencies and was organized by the Rock Island County Health Department. Officials drew on experience gained during recent emergency planning drills, Foes said.

The preventive treatments are most effective within two weeks of exposure, health officials said.

Cases have been confirmed in Rock Island, Mercer, Henry, Warren and Woodford counties.

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