Waffle House customers possibly exposed to hepatitis A at South Carolina restaurant, officials say

Customers at South Carolina Waffle House may have been exposed to hepatitis A

BERKELEY COUNTY, S.C. — A South Carolina Waffle House employee who recently tested positive for hepatitis A may have exposed patrons to the virus, health officials said.

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In a Tuesday news release, the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control said anyone who dined at the chain's Berkeley County restaurant, located at 120 S. Goose Creek Blvd. in Goose Creek, from Aug. 24 to Sept. 13 may be at risk.

According to the DHEC, hepatitis A "is a contagious liver disease caused by the hepatitis A virus." Patients, who typically fall ill two to six weeks after exposure, may experience abdominal pain, nausea, diarrhea, vomiting and jaundice, the department said. Although most people recover within two months, the disease "can cause liver failure and death," particularly in older patients, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says on its website.

Health officials reportedly learned of the employee's positive test result Monday. Authorities are "now working with Waffle House to investigate possible exposures and provide guidance for preventive treatment," the department said.

"This illness is not a foodborne outbreak," the news release said. "The concern is not the restaurant. It is with a food handler who has hepatitis A infection, and they can spread the virus up to two weeks before they know they are sick. The risk of the hepatitis A virus spreading from an infected employee to customers in a restaurant setting is low."

Waffle House said it temporarily closed the restaurant before sanitizing it and reopening, WCSC-TV reported. The company, which said the diner is now considered safe, said in a statement that it will vaccinate workers at the Goose Creek restaurant and other metro Charleston locations.

"To our knowledge, no customer has contracted the virus from eating at our restaurant; however, in an abundance of caution, we have taken these and other steps to ensure our employees and customers are safe," the statement read.

The DHEC urged customers who visited the restaurant from Sept. 3 to 13 to consider getting a post-exposure vaccination. Although patrons who ate there from Aug. 24 to Sept. 2 "are not likely to benefit from post-exposure treatment," a vaccination "will give long-lasting protection from infection from future exposures," officials said.

If you begin to experience symptoms, seek medical care, the department said.

For more information, call the DHEC at 1-855-472-3432 from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. EDT Monday through Friday.