March: BiodefenseLong Island restaurant employee discovered with typhoid fever

Published 24 March 2008

A Long Island pizzeria employee worked for three days while infected before symptoms showed; health authorities say about 100 may be at “low risk” of infection

A kitchen worker at a Hicksville, Long Island pizzeria has contracted typhoid fever, putting more than 100 customers at risk for the potentially deadly bacterial infection, the Nassau County Department of Health and the restaurant said Saturday. Customers who ate at Mama Sbarro’s at 265 Broadway in Hicksville on March 14, 15 and 16 — when the infected employee last worked — have a “low risk” of contracting the rare intestinal infection, the Health Department said. The department emphasized that Mama Sbarro’s had passed two inspections since Friday evening, when the county was informed of the kitchen worker’s condition. The restaurant, which did not know the employee had typhoid fever until Saturday, had no major health violations in the last two years and would remain open, authorities said, because it was safe to eat there.

Cynthia Brown, a spokeswoman for the county Health Department, said current customers are not at risk. Brown said the infected kitchen worker told authorities that he always wore gloves while handling food, making it unlikely that the disease was transmitted. Also, the restaurant’s employees were seen wearing gloves when preparing food during unannounced visits, Brown said. “We’re hopeful that this is an isolated instance,” said Stuart Steinberg, general counsel to the Long Island-based pizza chain Sbarro’s, the parent company of Mama Sbarro’s. Authorities would identify the kitchen worker only as a New York City man. He worked without symptoms on 14 and 15 March, and had some symptoms on 16 March, authorities said. He called in sick on 17 March, Steinberg said.

Typhoid is a bacterial infection passed on through eating food or drinking water containing infected feces or urine. It is rare in developed countries. Steinberg estimated that more than 100 people ate at the restaurant from 14 through 16 March. The disease may have been passed to the kitchen worker from relatives visiting from overseas, authorities said, though they would not say from what country or when the relatives visited. The man was treated at a hospital and released last week and is now undergoing treatment with antibiotic drugs, authorities said. He will be monitored by the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene for three months.