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More cases of Hepatitis A in Erie County; Health Commissioner calls it "tip of the iceberg"

WBFO file photo
Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz (left) has paid political appointees, like Health Commissioner Dr. Gale Burstein (right), overtime for COVID-19-related work using federal CARES Act money. Comptroller Stefan Mychajliw has criticized the practice.

Four new cases of Hepatitis A stemming from a local pizzeria mark the latest in a significant increase of the virus in Erie County. Officials are recommending any resident without a complete series of Hepatitis A vaccinations get fully immunized.

A cook at Doino’s Pizzeria Bar and Grille at 2709 Harlem Road in Cheektowaga was diagnosed with a confirmed case of Hepatitis A in mid-August.

“This individual had been infected and was contagious at the time that they were working at the restaurant,” said Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz on Monday afternoon.

Three other individuals with confirmed cases are believed to have contracted the virus through food that was handled by the cook.

The four new cases of Hepatitis A make for a total of 20 identified in Erie County so far this year, signifying a sharp rise from the average two to four cases identified annually between 2015 and 2017. In February, cases were confirmed in a food service worker employed at a restaurant and a senior living facility in the county, and in a client of the Buffalo City Mission. The cost of rush vaccinations and staffing at vaccination clinics put the Health Department $74,000 over budget by the middle of the year, and legislators asked for a transfer of funds from the Department of Social Services to cover the cost.

Health Commissioner Dr. Gale Burstein said it is believed that the 20 cases are “the tip of the iceberg,” with potential for more cases in the community with mild or non-typical Hepatitis A symptoms.

“Just to put it in framework, Hepatitis A is a highly contagious liver infection caused by the Hepatitis A virus. It can range from no symptoms at all to a mild illness lasting a few weeks to a severe illness lasting several months. Although it’s very rare, Hepatitis A can cause death in some people,” said Burstein.

Due to rise in cases, the county is recommending that any residents who have not been fully immunized with the Hepatitis A vaccine series do so by visiting a primary care provider, health care office, or clinic. The vaccine is not available at pharmacies.

Anyone who ate dine-in or take-out food from Doino’s between August 20 and September 3 is advised to monitor themselves and their families for symptoms for 50 days since consuming the food.

Symptoms of Hepatitis A can include fever, fatigue, loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, dark urine, clay-colored stools, joint pain, and jaundice (yellowing of the skin and eyes).

More information is available at the Erie County Health Department website.

Follow @SAvery131

Mike Desmond is one of Western New York’s most experienced reporters, having spent nearly a half-century covering the region for newspapers, television stations and public radio. He has been with WBFO and its predecessor, WNED-AM, since 1988. As a reporter for WBFO, he has covered literally thousands of stories involving education, science, business, the environment and many other issues. Mike has been a long-time theater reviewer for a variety of publications and was formerly a part-time reporter for The New York Times.
Avery began his broadcasting career as a disc jockey for WRUB, the University at Buffalo’s student-run radio station.
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