Nearly 7,000 could have been exposed to hepatitis A at Hamptons restaurant

Driver's Seat, a restaurant on Job's Lane in Driver's Seat, a restaurant on Job's Lane in Southampton offers outdoor seating on a small terrace and in a courtyard. (June 22, 2010) Photo Credit: Doug Young

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As many as 6,750 people who dined at a Southampton restaurant could have been exposed to hepatitis A through a waiter who worked there, Suffolk County health officials said Friday.

The seasonal employee was diagnosed with the virus after he was hospitalized elsewhere in the state from Aug. 23 to 26, according to Health Department spokeswoman Grace Kelly-McGovern.

Health officials said the waiter worked at The Driver's Seat, 62 Jobs Lane, from Aug. 6 to Aug. 20. None of the other employees have shown symptoms of the infectious liver disease and all "are in the process of being immunized," Kelly-McGovern said.

The restaurant, which has 40 workers and serves 400 to 450 meals a day, "is working very closely with the health department," she said.

Corinne Rueb, manager of the restaurant, said the employee, as a waiter, did not touch the food being served.

"It's highly, highly unlikely that if the staff didn't get it -- and we all eat the food -- people coming to the restaurant would get it," Rueb said, noting that the restaurant remains open.

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The Health Department is offering free preventive treatment to those exposed. Treatment with a vaccination or immune globulin within two weeks of exposure to hepatitis A can help to prevent or lessen the severity of the illness.

The department said it is not recommending preventive treatment for those potentially exposed before Aug. 16 because it won't be effective. Health Commissioner Dr. James Tomarken said that's because 10 days had already elapsed before Thursday's announcement about the exposure.

Hepatitis A symptoms include fever, fatigue, poor appetite, nausea, stomach pain, dark-colored urine and jaundice -- a yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes. Most people recover in a few weeks without any complications.

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The virus can be spread by consuming food or drink handled by an infected person, or through fecal matter.

Free treatment is being offered at Southampton Hospital or at health department offices at 3500 Sunrise Hwy., Great River. For more information, call the Health Department hotline at 631-787-2200 between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m.

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