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ROCHESTER, N.Y. -- Erie County health commissioner Dr. Anthony J. Billittier said yesterday that customers of the Wegmans at 5275 Sheridan Drive, Williamsville, N.Y., near Buffalo, N.Y., were potentially exposed to hepatitis A through a produce handler at the store who was diagnosed with the infection.
Health officials said the risk of exposure was low, but it launched health informational and vaccination efforts to prevent any possible spread of the illness.
The Wegmans produce handler worked while potentially infectious on several days in January and February, the government department said. Since it was believed that the employee followed good hand hygiene and food safety practices, the risk of exposure is small, it said; but the Erie County Department of Health still offered preventive treatment to anyone who might have been exposed.
In response to the situation, Wegmans said it had removed potentially affected produce from shelves and sanitized the sales area in the affected store. The retailer said it has additionally offered to issue refunds to any customers who believe they bought potentially affected products. It also requested customers throw away the products at home, rather than bring them in to the store.
Wegmans has also set up a special toll-free number for customers with Wegmans-related questions only, at (800) 564-8260.
Items in sealed packaging, including bagged salads, vegetables, or salad dressings and dips, present no risk of infection and so are safe for customers to consume, the department said in a statement.
Those potentially at risk are customers who bought produce at the Sheridan Drive Wegmans location after Jan. 7, ate the produce without cooking it since Jan. 26, and who haven't been previously vaccinated nor had hepatitis A in the past, said county health officials. They recommended that such people receive hepatitis A vaccine or immune globulin (IG). Those who have had a vaccination for the illness or have had it in the past are protected from infection, the department said.
Those who ate produce from the Wegmans location after Jan. 7 but more than 14 days ago, were advised to watch for symptoms of hepatitis A, and to contact a medical professional if they experience such symptoms as jaundice (yellowing of the skin and eyes), fatigue, abdominal pain, loss of appetite, nausea, diarrhea, and fever. Symptoms usually last less than two months, though some people may be ill for as long as six months. The hepatitis A vaccine or IG treatment won't prevent illness in people exposed prior to 14 days ago, it added.
Family-owned Wegmans operates 71 stores in New York, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Virginia, and Maryland.