A former employee at the Taco Bell restaurant at 1758 W. North Temple passed the hepatitis A virus to at least 21 restaurant patrons and fellow workers, according to the Salt Lake City-County Health Department.
The virus causes liver damage, although the huge majority of those infected recover fully within one or two months. Highly infectious, it is transmitted by contaminated food or water. It's not as dangerous as hepatitis B.In December 1994, a total of 72 cases of hepatitis A were reported in Salt Lake County, by far the largest number in years. The outbreak came a few months after an increase in Utah County, said Dr. Thomas Schlenker, the department's director.
In January, 47 cases have been reported in Salt Lake County, with a few others suspected as hepatitis, pending confirmation.
The figures included cases that were eventually traced to the Taco Bell.
"In December and January . . . we have noted a higher proportion of food service workers among reported hepatitis A cases," Schlenker said.
The department traced one food-borne outbreak to the Taco Bell at 1758 W. North Temple.
At least 21 patrons and employees, some of whom have symptoms now, apparently contracted hepatitis A in early December "by way of an infected food handler who has since moved out of state," Schlenker said.
He and the department's Bureau of Communicable Disease identified Taco Bell as a source for the disease. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control, Atlanta, were consulted during the case study.
The restaurant has undergone inspection and its staff has been checked. The Taco Bell "has been very responsive to all public health requirements," Schlenker said.
"The restaurant is open for business and poses, in our judgment, no risk to the public at this time."
Symptoms commonly begin one month after exposure. They include prolonged nausea and vomiting, diarrhea or constipation, dark urine, loss of appetite, intolerance to certain tastes and smell, and jaundice (yellow tint to the skin and eyes).
Anyone with these symptoms, particularly those who are jaundiced, should contact their physicians or the Salt Lake City-County Health Department, 534-4600.The most effective way to prevent spreading the virus is through frequent and thorough hand washing with warm water and soap, especially after using the restroom, he said.
Taco Bell has set up a hotline for anyone with questions about the situation. The toll-free number is 1-800-607-7491.
The restaurant has arranged for free testing of anyone who may have eaten at the west North Temple location on Dec. 1, 3, 4 and 14-21, 1994. Four clinics - in Bountiful, Holladay and two in Salt Lake City - will perform the tests.