WATERVILLE — A worker at Joseph’s Market on Front Street was infected with hepatitis A virus while preparing food over a two-week period, prompting the Maine Center for Disease Control and state officials to notify customers who bought food during that time that they may be at risk for the infection.

The State Department of Agriculture, Conservation & Forestry issued a press release Friday afternoon saying the market’s food service worker prepared food while infected from Dec. 27, 2019, through Jan. 9 this year, and any deli and ready-to-eat food purchased during that time should be discarded, and meat purchased during that period should either be discarded or cooked thoroughly.

Joseph’s Market on Front Street on Friday. The state has issued a warning that a worker at the market was infected with hepatitis A between Dec. 27, 2019, and Jan. 9. Customers who bought deli, ready-to-eat food and meat during that period may be at risk of infection.

“Individuals who purchased deli items, ready-to-eat food, or meat from Joseph’s Market in Waterville between those dates should watch for symptoms and contact a health care provider to be tested if they show any signs of infection,” the press release says.

People who consumed deli items, ready-to-eat food or meat during the period have up to 14 days after eating them to receive hepatitis A immune globulin (IG) or the vaccine, it says. They should contact their medical providers to discuss options, according to officials.

“Individuals with compromised immune systems or children under 1 year old who ate deli items, ready-to-eat food, or meat from Joseph’s Market during this time could gain added protection by receiving the hepatitis A IG, upon consultation with their health care providers,” the release says.

Hepatitis A is a vaccine-preventable, contagious liver disease caused by the hepatitis A virus. Symptoms can range from mild illness to a severe illness that requires hospitalization and the illness can last several months, the release says. Most adults with hepatitis A have a sudden onset of symptoms such as tiredness, low appetite, stomach pain, nausea, dark urine and jaundice, or yellowing of the skin and eyes. Most children under 6 do not have symptoms or have an unrecognized infection, according to the release.

“The best way to prevent hepatitis A infection is to get vaccinated,” it says.

Hepatitis A can spread through contaminated food or water, especially in food prepared by someone who is infected, it says. Symptoms will begin to show 15 to 50 days after exposure to the virus. An infected person can spread the virus to others about two weeks before symptoms start until one week after symptoms end.

Both the Maine Center for Disease Control and Agriculture Department are working with the owner of Joseph’s Market and local health care providers to minimize the risk of further exposure, according to officials.

Joseph’s Market was open on Friday.

Danny McKinnis, who has been a butcher for 18 years there and the store manager about a year, said in a phone interview Friday afternoon that the worker who had hepatitis A got it from her spouse. She brought a note into work from the hospital saying she was cleared to return to work and did return, according to McKinnis.

“It wasn’t anything that we did in the store to make this happen,” McKinnis said of the virus. “It came from the outside in.”

Contacted Friday afternoon, Robert Long, communications director for the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention, stopped short of confirming it is OK now to buy food at the store.

“I can’t say that with 100% certainty,” Long said, when asked. “If people take the precautions we spell out in the release, that’s the best advice we can give them to protect themselves.”

Asked if he could confirm the worker who was infected was cleared by a doctor to return to work and is not contagious, Long said he did not know.

“That’s really not our focus, but I don’t know that for certain,” he said.

The market’s co-owner, Ireen Huda of Saco, said Friday that she does not know if any customers have become sick as a result of having bought food at the store.

Contacted Friday, James Britt, communications director for the Agriculture Department, also said he did not know.

“We are not aware of any individuals, besides the single employee, identified with a case of hep A,” he said.

Meanwhile, Kevin Joseph, who sold the market many years ago and is co-owner of Joseph’s Fireside Steakhouse on West River Road, said the restaurant has not bought any meat or food from the market since 2012. He said he wanted to be “very, very clear” about that.

“Joseph’s Fireside Steakhouse does not purchase anything whatsoever from the store, and we haven’t, for a number of years,” he said.

More information about hepatitis A is available at https://www.cdc.gov/hepatitis/hav/index.htm.

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