Taco Bell employee tests positive for hepatitis A; co-workers vaccinated: report

A Taco Bell employee in central Florida tested positive for hepatitis A last month and likely exposed the restaurant's patrons to the disease during his infectious period, the Pinellas County Health Department said.

The information was revealed in an email that county health officials sent to the state, according to a report.

The Health Department later said the employee, who worked at the restaurant chain's location in Tarpon Springs, was infected from at least April 12-14.

The agency opened a joint investigation and food safety inspection with the Division of Hotels and Restaurants on April 17, WFTS-TV of Tampa reported. It wasn’t immediately clear how the agency became aware of the employee’s diagnosis.

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Inspectors who showed up at the Taco Bell discovered that the restroom sinks lacked hot water and the men's room's soap dispenser was not working, according to the inspection report. Some employees were not washing their hands, the report said.

Health officials have warned that hepatitis A can spread when infected people handle food or touch surfaces without having washed their hands properly, according to the report.

FILE: Travelers look at a menu at a Taco Bell restaurant inside Miami International Airport in Miami. (Associated Press)

FILE: Travelers look at a menu at a Taco Bell restaurant inside Miami International Airport in Miami. (Associated Press)

Previously, the Pinellas County Health Department never told the general public that an employee at Hellas Restaurant and Bakery, also in Tarpon Springs, had become infected with hepatitis A in March, WFTS reported.

Pinellas County has been the site for about one-third of hepatitis A cases reported in the Tampa Bay area, the report said. Cases discovered at other area restaurants also were not made public, the report said.

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After the report, officials at Taco Bell headquarters in Irvine, Calif., released a statement saying that the Tarpon Springs restaurant was “thoroughly sanitized and all team members were vaccinated” after one of its employees was diagnosed.