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    Former waiter is diagnosed with hepatitis A

    By MIKE BRASSFIELD
    © St. Petersburg Times
    published October 26, 2002

    ST. PETERSBURG -- A former waiter at a north St. Petersburg restaurant has been diagnosed with hepatitis A and may have exposed restaurant patrons to the infectious disease in recent weeks, health officials said Friday.

    The waiter, whose name was not released, used to work at Ferdinand G's, a Cuban and Spanish restaurant in a strip mall at 9089 Fourth St. N, according to the Pinellas County health department.

    No other cases of hepatitis A have been reported in connection with this one, and the waiter may have had minimal contact with customers' food.

    However, anyone who ate at the restaurant between Sept. 24 and Oct. 15 should be aware of the risk, health officials said. If they feel ill, they should call their doctor or the health department to be checked out.

    Hepatitis A symptoms would appear within six weeks of exposure to the disease. Symptoms include jaundice, fatigue, abdominal pain, vomiting, fever, dark urine and joint pain.

    Hepatitis A, a liver disease, is not routinely transmitted through serving food. It may be spread by eating contaminated food prepared by an infected person, said health department spokeswoman Elaine Fulton-Jones.

    Ferdinand G's was notified Friday morning that a former employee had tested positive for hepatitis A. The husband and wife who own the business are trying to reassure customers that their restaurant is a safe and sanitary place to eat.

    "We take every precaution here to eliminate any food-borne illnesses," co-owner Wayne Ramos said. "We've always had stringent procedures to eliminate any problems."

    The restaurant has been in existence for two years and has become known along the Fourth Street N corridor for its pressed Cuban sandwiches and its roast pork dinners. The owners are worried about bad publicity.

    "We're a small, little place," Ramos said.

    Current restaurant employees were to be tested Friday for hepatitis A.

    "The health department checked the restaurant out to make sure everything is functioning properly," manager Rob Waldron said. "This is a tough situation. It's something that's just uncontrollable."

    Earlier this year, a food server at the Melting Pot fondue restaurant at 2221 Fourth St. N in St. Petersburg was diagnosed with the infectious disease.

    Pinellas County had 38 cases of hepatitis A last year, and 45 in 2000.

    Hepatitis A can be fatal if untreated.

    Two victims of the disease have died this year in Polk County, where a spate of hepatitis A cases were connected to contaminated food served at a church fish fry and at a Bartow restaurant.

    At least 185 cases of hepatitis A have been confirmed in Polk County this year, breaking a record of 153 cases last year.

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