Employee of Austin Whataburger diagnosed with Hepatitis A virus

AUSTIN -- The Austin-Travis County Health and Human Services Department is issuing a warning to customers of the Whataburger restaurant in West Campus after an employee was diagnosed with Hepatitis A, a contagious virus that attacks the liver.

Health Department officials say anyone who ate at the restaurant on 2800 Guadalupe Street from August 7th through August 19th is at risk.

"What we've identified is that he was actually working at the Whataburger during times when he was infectious," said Dr. Phil Huang, MD, Medical Director and Health Authority for the Austin-Travis County Health and Human Services Department.

Huang said a person is infectious up to two weeks before they have symptoms and one week after they have experienced jaundice.

Symptoms of Hepatitis A are:

  • Fever
  • Fatigue
  • Loss of appetite
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Abdominal discomfort
  • Dark urine
  • Clay-colored bowel movement
  • Joint pain
  • Jaundice (yellowing of the skin or eyes)

Signs and symptoms usually appear two to four weeks after exposure, although they may occur up to two to seven weeks after exposure. Children under six years of age with Hepatitis A often do not show symptoms. Doctors say Hepatitis A generally clears on its own and the person infected does not suffer major liver damage. Once a person has been diagnosed, they won't get the virus again. It is now a requirement that children get a Hepatitis A vaccine before they enroll in school.

Huang added that while it is unlikely the virus was transmitted to customers, it is possible, simply because of how it is spread.

"This one is primarily, usually fecal-oral. So it's when something that's contaminated with a person's feces, you know, is ingested and that can be also through food and water if there's contamination there," explained Huang.

According to Whataburger's Corporate Communications Office, it is standard procedure for employees to wash their hands after leaving the restroom.

Still, Huang recommends people with the following risk factors contact their doctors if they ate at the restaurant:

  • 75 years of age and older
  • Immune compromised
  • Persons with chronic liver disease including individuals who had a liver transplant
  • Persons with clotting-factor disorders
  • Persons experiencing hepatitis A symptoms

Whataburger officials also said the infected employee was taken off the schedule as soon as they learned of his the diagnosis and that he is currently recovering. As an extra precaution, all employees handling food are now wearing gloves and all employees will be given a Hepatitis A vaccine, paid for by the company.

Whataburger released the following statement Thursday afternoon:

"This report of one employee's Hepatitis A diagnosis at our 2800 Guadalupe St. location is top priority for us, which is why we have set up a dedicated hotline at 844-569-5555 to answer questions from the community. We invest a tremendous amount of time and effort to ensure food safety, so we have a team actively managing the situation, and we are working closely with the Austin/Travis County Health and Human Services Department. We remain committed to a safe and clean dining experience for our employees and customers, and we have taken several precautionary measures, including providing all of our team members who work at this restaurant a Hepatitis A vaccine at Whataburger's expense. Again, we encourage those with questions to contact our hotline at 844-569-5555."

Health officials say this situation is a good reminder that all persons should practice thorough hand washing after toileting and prior to food preparation to avoid spread of disease. More information can be found at http://www.cdc.gov/Hepatitis/A/index.htm

If you have concerns about being exposed, you can call the Austin-Travis County Health and Human Services Department at 512-972-4372.


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