People who ate at Fort Collins restaurant warned about possible hepatitis A exposure

Tortilla Marissa's in Fort Collins, Colo.

Tortilla Marissa's in Fort Collins, Colo.

FORT COLLINS, Colo. — The Larimer County Health Department is warning about a possible exposure to Hepatitis A at a Fort Collins restaurant.

That warning comes with two special clinics for medical care, starting this weekend, for people who dined at Tortilla Marissa’s in the last two weeks. But people who ate there as far back as May could still be at risk.

Jane Viste, spokesperson for the health department, says a food worker at the Tex-Mex restaurant tested positive for the virus Wednesday.

And the restaurant agreed to voluntarily close Thursday while the health department investigates.

Viste says if you ate or drank anything from the restaurant within the last 14 days, you have the best chance of avoiding infection if you get the Hepatitis A vaccine or Immune Globulin Injection .

If you ate there afterward, the vaccine won’t help you.

Diners should pay attention to symptoms of Hep A, which includes: fever, nausea, loss of appetite, dark urine, gray or white stools and jaundice.

Some of those symptoms may not even show until 50 days after exposure. But for most people, symptoms usually appear four weeks after ingesting the virus.

The virus is shed in the stool and can be spread when an infected person does not wash his or her hands after using the bathroom, then, touches food or objects people put in their mouths.

“Hep A is very easy for any of us to catch. He could have got it from a friend or relative. He could have got it from some food that he ate. It’s very difficult to know the exact source,” says Viste.

So, the health department the closure is preventive—and so are the two vaccine clinics.

“That hurts, it hurts everybody,” says the owner of the restaurant Mike Piotraschke.

He says the worries about the health of his customers, employees and restaurant. He hopes it can weather the closure that could stretch into August.

“It’s been a very humbling kind of experience and you know why you do this job. So, we’re passionate about it. And we do what we can. We just want to be here for our staff and our customers,” he says.

They are customers, who, one after the next, say they’ll be back when the restaurant gets the all-clear. They have no worries.

“No more than it worries me that a butcher that prepares my meat could have it, or the produce worker in the grocery store could have it … We all take certain risks when we eat food. Period,” says customer Diane Freehling.

Piotraschke says the restaurant has a new job sickness policy—where employees can stay home if they find someone to fill their shift. Also, employees will have to be vaccinated against Hep A.

The free vaccine clinics run this Sunday, from noon to 5 p.m. and Monday from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. at the Larimer County Health Department at 1525 Blue Spruce Dr.

Preventing Transmission

Hepatitis A virus is shed in the stool and can be spread when an infected person does not properly wash his or her hands after using the bathroom, and then touches food or objects that others will put into their mouth. It is NOT spread by kissing, hugging, sneezing, or casual contact.

Thorough hand-washing can prevent the spread of hepatitis A virus. As a prevention measure, people should always wash their hands thoroughly with soap and water after using the bathroom, after diapering, before preparing food, and before eating.

For information about hepatitis A, please contact the Colorado Health Emergency Line for Public Information (CO-HELP) at 1-877-462-2911, or 303-389-1687. Additional information about hepatitis A can also be found from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Information about how to sign up for the Hepatitis A vaccination clinics provided by the Larimer County Department of Health and Environment will be available no later than Saturday afternoon through www.larimer.org or by calling 970-498-6706.