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Health Dept. Warns of Possible Hepatitis Outbreak at UWS Grocery Store

By Emily Frost | August 23, 2013 9:52am
 A worker at the Upper West Side grocery store has a case of hep A, putting customers at risk. 
Hepatitis A Outbreak Possible at Westside Market
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UPPER WEST SIDE — The Health Department is urging customers who ate fruit from an Upper West Side grocery store to get tested for hepatitis A after a food handler was diagnosed with the disease.

Customers who ate pre-cut fruit from the Westside Market at West 97th Street and Broadway between Aug. 9 and 22 — either by buying it in the store or having it delivered — may have been exposed to hepatitis A and should get vaccinated, the department said in a statement.

No cases have been reported yet, the department said.

Thousands of packages of pre-cut watermelon, pineapple and coconut may have been contaminated by the infected worker, the DOH warned.

It typically takes between two to four weeks before symptoms manifest, and those exposed should get treated within two weeks for the vaccine to be most effective, the department said.

 The Health Department warned of a possible hepatitis A outbreak at the Westside Market after a worker was diagnosed with the disease.
The Health Department warned of a possible hepatitis A outbreak at the Westside Market after a worker was diagnosed with the disease.
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"Symptoms include jaundice (yellowing of eyes and skin), fatigue, abdominal pain, nausea and diarrhea," the statement said.

However, the liver disease is rarely fatal, the department added. 

A spokeswoman for the store said it is in full cooperation with the Health Department's investigation and that the market "takes health and safety issues very seriously."

"The market has been inspected, and every employee was assessed, every single employee is being vaccinated, all of the foods that may have been effected by this potential matter has been discarded, and all of the facilities have been cleansed," the spokeswoman said.

On Friday morning, many shoppers hadn't heard about the fruit contamination and some of those who had were disturbed by how little information the market provided. 

A two-page announcement from the DOH in a small font was posted in the far corner of the pre-cut fruit section, which shopper Celeste Harwell, 55, did not think was enough.

Harwell was disturbed that she had to hear about the news from her co-op board through a newsletter.  

"They're not doing a great job," she said of Westside Market's reaction to the potential outbreak. 

"There should be a bigger sign," she said, adding that she wasn't clear on the severity or whether she needed a vaccine.

"I didn't shop here today," she said, "I went somewhere else — it didn't seem safe."

Rina Solomon, 71, works at a nearby beauty salon and felt she needed to get vaccinated immediately in case her customers were panicked. She didn't think she could wait for the free vaccines that began at 2 p.m. and ended up paying $84 for her vaccine. 

"I can't afford it," she said, and was angry that the market wasn't offering to compensate her. 

"I will not come back here," she said vehemently.

Others customers said they'd continue to shop at the market but had concerns.

"It might make me think twice [about buying cut fruit]," said Jeremy, a shopper who did not want to share his last name. 

"I might be a little more cautious," he said. 

Another shopper was confused about the way the virus spreads. 

"I bought something here and nothing happened," said Milagros Stanley, 72.

"It's only one person — I don't worry," she said. 

Free hepatitis A vaccinations will be offered at M.S. 258 at 154 West 93rd St. between Columbus and Amsterdam avenues on Friday and Monday between 2 p.m. and 8 p.m, on Saturday between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m., and on Sunday between 2 p.m. and 6 p.m. Those with insurance cards are asked to bring them.