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I-Team uncovers more past cases of Hepatitis A in restaurant workers kept from the public

Posted: 4:52 PM, May 07, 2019
Updated: 2019-05-07 21:04:37-04
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TAMPA, Fla. -- An ABC Action News Dirty Dining I-Team investigation has uncovered more restaurants in Hillsborough, Pasco and Pinellas counties with workers who tested positive for Hepatitis A.

An I-Team review found local health departments never told the dining public about these cases:

  • Cypress Creek Golf Club at 1011 Cypress Village Boulevard in Ruskin had a worker infected with Hepatitis A, a case reported to the state on November 14, 2018.
  • The state received a report of Hepatitis A in a worker at R Bar at 245 108th Avenue in Treasure Island on Dec. 4, 2018. Restaurant management told ABC Action News the former employee tested positive in early November and was sent home at the time.
  • A worker at Pollo Tropical at 2130 Gulf to Bay Boulevard in Clearwater tested positive for Hepatitis A and was reported to the state on March 17, 2019.
  • Cracker Barrel at 5341 U.S. 19 in Pasco County had a food service worker infected with Hepatitis A, a case reported to the state on February 10, 2019.
  • The state received a report of Hepatitis A in an employee at Gill Dawg at 5419 Treadway Drive in Port Richey on February 10, 2019. Restaurant management told ABC Action News the restaurant followed heath department's instructions on how to make sure everyone was safe. The person with the virus no longer works there, according to the restaurant's management.
  • Timber Green Country Club at 6333 Timber Green Boulevard in New Port Richey had a food service worker test positive with Hepatitis A, a case reported to the state on October 25, 2018.

Local health department officials have cited medical privacy as the reason they won’t release information about infected restaurant workers to the public. But the I-Team uncovered a double standard when it comes to who has access to that confidential information. For example, in the health departments in Pinellas and Hillsborough counties contacted restaurant employees to tell them when they’ve been working alongside someone with Hepatitis A and urge them to get vaccinated.

RELATED:

DIRTY DINING | Uncovering outbreaks and violations from local restaurants

But diners are not allowed to know that information – even if they eat at that same restaurant on a regular basis, county health department bosses told ABC Action News.

Pinellas County Health Director Dr. Ulyee Choe has defended his decisions to keep the majority of restaurants with infected workers from the public and told the I-Team his decision is based on the restaurant’s sanitary practices.

“If it rises to the level and deemed a public health risk, that's when we make a public notification,” Choe said.

Kevin Watler, spokesman for the Hillsborough County Health Department, has yet to respond to questions about why the agency did not tell the public about a number of Hillsborough restaurants with infected workers.

Full statement from Kevin Dutkowsky, operating owner of Cypress Creek Golf Club:
In November of 2018 we had an employee in our restaurant test positive for hepatitis A after being admitted to the hospital with symptoms of jaundice, the employee was placed on paid medical leave prior to the diagnoses and was not permitted back to work until fully cleared by their doctors and the state Health Department. Once it was confirmed that it was in fact hepatitis A we worked closely with the Health Department to ensure all necessary steps were taken. This included informing all restaurant employees of the potential exposure and instructing them to continue maintaining our high food safety and cleanliness standards. Cypress Creek Golf Clubs management cooperated fully with the Health Department during their multiple on site visits while it was determined the employee had no contact with any ready to eat food. The Health Department assisted us in providing current employees with education as well as providing access to complimentary vaccines. As a testament to our stringent food safety and cleanliness standards, as of today there have been zero confirmed cases of hepatitis A contracted at our establishment. Cypress Creek Golf Club values the health and safety of our employees and loyal patrons above anything else and we would like to thank the Health Department for assisting us in continuing to ensure their safety.

Full statement from management at R Bar:

  • we had a scare. Not an active situation
  • there was a fill in server that was scheduled 1 shift and it was determined she was not contagious at the time of that shift, she was sent home and it was back in early November. Not dec. Over 6 months ago and this person is not working here
  • for precautionary measures of never wanting to come this close again we have all current and future employees vaccinated.
  • you can get it anywhere. Just because a restaurant employee contracted it elsewhere and happens to work there does not mean the restaurant was negligent in any of its practices
  • everyone should simply get vaccinated if they are worried about it. Just like all the other vaccines of anything you are concerned about getting. It’s routine for all children now.
  • places that have dealt with this are now your most safest option. As they have taken all the precautionary measures to ensure it doesn't happen again.
  • Such as: disinfecting everything anyone touches with a bleach solution, frequent and thorough hand washing, vaccinating all employees. Although ours was just a scare and the health Dept deemed no reason to contact the public and did not shut us down at all, we took this as a very serious eye opener and do everything we can to protect every one of our customers and employees. Everyone’s safety is a top priority.
  • We realize you are on the health department for not disclosing information and we respect that. But our situation was simply a scare. They never shut us down. Our hopes are that you encourage everyone to get vaccinated because you can get it anywhere. At the gas pump. At the grocery store. At the movies. At the park. Etc.
  • Vaccination is your best defense. And it’s FREE!

Pinellas County Health Department is offering Hepatitis A vaccines to the public at no cost at several vaccine centers. For more information on where you can get these free vaccines in Pinellas County, you can click here. Other Florida counties, including Hillsborough, also provide free or discounted Hepatitis A vaccines to under insured people. You can click here for more information.

For more information on Hepatitis A and guidelines from the federal government, visit: www.cdc.gov/hepatitis/hav/index.htm.

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