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Sun City Center food worker tests positive for hepatitis A

State health officials are urging recent patrons of the Sandpiper Grille restaurant in Sun City Center to get vaccinated for hepatitis A after a food service worker there tested positive for the highly contagious virus last week.

Investigators with the Department of Health in Hillsborough County said they discovered unsafe food handling practices at the restaurant, located at 1702 Sand Pebble Beach Blvd., that could have exposed anyone who ate or drank there between March 20 and March 24 to the liver-attacking virus, said agency spokesman Kevin Watler in a statement released Monday.

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"Hepatitis A usually spreads when a person unknowingly ingests the virus from objects, food, or drinks contaminated by small, undetected amounts of stool from an infected person," the statement said. "Hepatitis A can also spread from close personal contact with an infected person such as through sex or caring for someone who is ill. Contamination of food (this can include frozen and undercooked food) by hepatitis A virus can happen at any point: growing, harvesting, processing, handling, and even after cooking."

Anyone who believes they're at risk can get a hepatitis A vaccination for free at one of several temporary vaccination clinics created in response to the food worker's confirmed illness. Vaccinations are available on weekdays from 7:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. at the Sulphur Springs Health Complex at 8605 Mitchell Ave. in Tampa.

Symptoms of the illness usually begin to appear within 28 days of infections and can linger for as few as 15 days to as many as 50 days, Watler said. Hillsborough County has reported 103 cases of hepatitis A this year, records show. For the past five years, by comparison, the average number of hepatitis A cases reported annually was 6.

And the record numbers aren't limited to Hillsborough, Watler said. Pinellas County health officials have already reported 121 cases of hepatitis A this year, and Florida is among 16 states where health officials have declared a hepatitis A outbreak.

Hillsborough County health officials also set up a hotline for anyone with questions: (813) 307-8004.

Contact Anastasia Dawson at or (813) 226-3377. Follow @adawsonwrites.