Typhoid Fever Scare Rocks Long Island

A kitchen worker at a Hicksville, Long Island Mama Sbarro’s pizzeria contracted <"http://www.yourlawyer.com/practice_areas/diseases">typhoid fever, putting over 100 customers at risk for the potentially deadly bacterial infection, according to the Nassau County Department of Health.  Customers who ate at Mama Sbarro’s at 265 Broadway in Hicksville on March 14, 15, and 16—when the infected employee last worked—have a “low risk” of contracting the rare intestinal infection, the Health Department said, emphasizing that Mama Sbarro’s passed two inspections since Friday evening, when the county was informed of the kitchen worker’s condition.  The restaurant, which did not know the employee had typhoid fever, had no major health violations in the last two years and would remain open, authorities said, because it was safe to eat there.

Cynthia Brown, a spokeswoman for the county Health Department, said current customers are not at risk, adding that the infected kitchen worker told authorities he always wore gloves while handling food, making it unlikely that the disease was transmitted.  Also, the restaurant’s employees were seen wearing gloves when preparing food during unannounced visits, Brown said.  “We’re hopeful that this is an isolated instance,” said Stuart Steinberg, general counsel to the Long Island-based pizza chain Sbarro’s, the parent company of Mama Sbarro’s.

Authorities identified the infected worker only as a New York City man who worked without symptoms on March 14 and 15 and had some symptoms on March 16.  He called in sick on March 17, Steinberg said. The disease may have been passed to him from relatives visiting from overseas, authorities said, though they would not say from what country or when the relatives visited.  The man was treated at a hospital and released last week and is now undergoing treatment with antibiotic drugs, authorities said; he will be monitored by the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene for three months.

Typhoid fever, or Salmonella typhi, is a bacterial infection in the intestines contracted through eating food or drinking water contaminated by an infected person’s feces or urine, said Dr. Ken Steier, the patient safety officer at Nassau University Medical Center.  Symptoms include fever, headache, constipation or diarrhea, rose-colored spots on the torso, and an enlarged spleen and liver and generally appear one to three weeks after exposure.  Cases can be treated with specific antibiotics; the fatality rate for those who don’t get antibiotic treatment is about 20 percent, Steier said and less than one percent for those who do take antibiotics.  Typhoid is rare in developed countries and there are about 400 cases of typhoid fever annually nationwide.  Nassau County has seen  between two and seven cases annually since 2003.  About 75 percent of the time, the infected person contracted the disease while visiting a developing country, Steier said.

The county Health Department urged anyone who ate at Mama Sbarro’s in Hicksville on March 14, 15, and 16 to wash their hands thoroughly after using the toilet and before and after preparing food.  Also, they should use separate towels to dry their hands.

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