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Health Experts Looking For Source of Hepatitis Outbreak

September 21, 1985

DANBURY, Conn. (AP) _ A hepatitis outbreak that sickened at least 69 people at the city’s most luxurious hotel apparently has ended, but health officials said Friday they may never pinpoint the cause of the outbreak.

All of the Type A hepatitis victims - 63 workers and six guests - ate at the Hilton Inn between July 29 and Aug. 9, said Dr. Matthew Cartter, an epidemiologist with the state Department of Health Services.

Officials suspect the hepatitis virus was carried in food served in an employee cafeteria, said Cartter. He noted that no city residents using the same water supply have become ill.

But he noted that two food handlers in the employees’ cafeteria had been diagnosed as possible carriers of the disease. He said it can be highly contagious through human carriers.

The illness may incubate for 15 to 50 days before producing symptoms, meaning transmission might have occurred over a long period, he said.

″We may never figure out what the source of the contamination was,″ Cartter said. ″Most of the employees ate at the cafeteria every single day. It’s especially hard four or five weeks after an event for people to remember what they ate.″

Symptoms of the illness include yellowing of the skin and eyes, nausea, vomiting and abdominal pains and fever. The illness is rarely fatal and has no long-term health consequences, officials say.

″It’s a self-limiting disease,″ said Cartter. ″It usually lasts about two weeks. You recover from it and you never get it again.″

Danbury Health Director William P. Quinn, pointing to blood tests that showed no sign of the disease in eight hotel workers or former guests considerd at risk, said Friday the outbreak apparently had ended.

One of the food handlers identified as a possible carrier, who was among the first victims, was diagnosed as having hepatitis on Aug. 23. The other handler told officials earlier this week that he had had infectious hepatitis previously.

The virus that causes the disease is found only in human feces and is killed by heat, said Cartter.

In a hotel environment, he said, there is only only one way hepatitis can be transmitted: ″It’s got to be feces to hands to food.″

In previous cases, infected employees have failed to wash their hands properly before preparing food, or sewer discharges have contaminated shellfish beds or drinking water, he said.

Cancellations at the Hilton Inn are ″above average,″ manager Richard Koscher said.

″It’s like a little murder mystery here,″ Koscher said. ″It’s incredible the effect something like this could have.″

A ″remote possibility,″ Koscher said, is that one or more kitchen workers were contaminated while cleaning up a series of sewer back-ups that occurred in June and July in a room not far from the employee cafeteria.

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