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Third Hepatitis Death in Pennsylvania

November 15, 2003|From Associated Press

PITTSBURGH — A third person died Friday and nearly 500 others who ate at a Chi-Chi's Mexican restaurant have fallen ill in a large outbreak of hepatitis A, officials said.

Health investigators are focusing on whether contaminated produce -- perhaps scallions -- caused the outbreak at the restaurant in the Beaver Valley Mall, about 25 miles northwest of Pittsburgh.

Health officials Friday met with worried shoppers at the mall to try to squelch rumors that the virus was spreading out of control to other restaurants in the region.

"We're very concerned. It's very serious, and we've sent a team of people out there to assist," said David Daigle, a spokesman for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Officials at the mall said sales at the food court were off by as much as 40% and sales at the mall were down about 25%.

At least 490 people have been sickened in the outbreak -- believed to be the largest on record in the United States, Daigle said.

The Chi-Chi's has been shut down, and the restaurant chain removed scallions from kitchens at all 100 of its locations, said Bill Zavertnik, chief operating officer of the Louisville, Ky.-based company.

In September, about 280 people in Georgia and Tennessee were infected with hepatitis A from contaminated scallions, or green onions, including 210 people who ate at restaurants in the Atlanta area. The infections were linked to 12 restaurants -- none of them Chi-Chi's.

Between 125,000 to 200,000 people each year contract hepatitis A, an infection that attacks the liver. It can be spread by an infected person, and can also be spread on uncooked foods, such as salads.

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