SACO — The Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention is informing the public that it has identified a case of acute hepatitis A virus infection in an individual who is a food service worker at Sea Salt Lobster Restaurant in Saco.

“The individual handled food at Sea Salt Lobster Restaurant while infectious from May 12 through May 23,” the CDC said in a news release. An assessment of the employee’s illness determined that restaurant patrons may be at risk for hepatitis A infection and is advising some be vaccinated

Morey Highbarger, one of the owners of the restaurant, said in a telephone interview on Friday that none of the employees or any customers  have reported illness. He said the employee who had the disease has recovered and has been cleared to return to work.

The Maine CDC informed the restaurant of the situation Thursday evening.

Highbarger said the state is trying to trace the source of the employee’s infection.

“The person was infected outside this facility,” he said.

The Maine CDC issued a news release Friday morning, recommending that anyone who may have eaten food prepared at Sea Salt Lobster Restaurant or worked there on May 22 and May 23 receive a hepatitis A vaccine by Saturday, June 6, as there is a 14-day window during which prophylaxis is effective after exposure.

Anyone who visited the restaurant from May 12 through May 21 is outside the window for which prophylaxis is recommended, but should watch for symptoms and seek medical attention if symptoms develop, the CDC said. Individuals with compromised immune systems or children younger than one year old during the time period may benefit from hepatitis A immune globulin (IG), upon consultation with their health care provider.

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

Hepatitis A can be spread through contaminated food or water, especially in food prepared by a person who is infected, according to the Maine CDC. Symptoms begin to show 15-50 days after exposure. An infected person can spread the virus to others approximately two weeks before symptoms start until one week after symptoms end.

Highbarger said the restaurant maintains high standards for cleanliness and has had the same staff for five years.

“As a matter of course, and as reflected by our high marks from health inspectors over the years, and as recently as an inspection conducted today, we maintain the highest level of sanitation with an eye toward scrupulous food service safety,” he said in a prepared statement issued Friday afternoon.  “This is especially true during this time of the COVID-19 pandemic when we have redoubled our efforts with elevated restaurant cleaning and sanitizing and with mandated personal safety precautions including frequent handwashing, and wearing of masks and gloves by all Sea Salt team members. We will continue to work closely with the CDC and health authorities to ensure the ongoing safety of our team and treasured customers.”

The Maine CDC advised that the best way to prevent hepatitis A infection is to get vaccinated. For more information on hepatitis A, visit: www.cdc.gov/hepatitis/hav/index.htm.

Sea Salt Lobster Restaurant is open for outside dining as well as takeout and curbside pickup.

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