NYC
04/06/2013 10:30 am ET | Updated Apr 08, 2013

Alta Hepatitis Scare: West Village Restaurant Warns Patrons Of Possible Hepatitis A Outbreak

By Janon Fisher and Ben Fractenberg

MANHATTAN — Diners who ate dessert at the high-end Alta Restaurant in the West Village in the last two weeks may have contracted Hepatitis A from an infected food handler, the city Health Department warned Friday evening.

Health officials urge anyone who ate dessert at the top-rated Mediterranean bistro between March 23 and April 2 to get a Hepatitis A vaccination just in case.

“We are asking these restaurant patrons to get this vaccination as a precautionary measure,” Health Commissioner Dr. Thomas Farley said in a statement. “If people experience symptoms, they should see a doctor immediately. This incident serves as an important reminder to always wash your hands thoroughly to prevent the spread of disease.”

The restaurant's manager, Manny Solano, said that a pastry chef had contracted the virus while traveling in Mexico. He said that she realized she was ill on Monday, but now is feeling better.

"She's OK," said Solano, adding that all employees will be getting vaccinated.

On Friday, the Health Department and Alta's owners were frantically reaching out to customers, which they estimated to be about 3,000 people, officials said.

The restaurant's owner, Christopher Chesnutt, estimated that as many as 450 patrons may have eaten dessert over the course of the two weeks.

Hepatitis A is spread when fecal matter is inadvertently eaten, the Health Department said. The disease, which targets the liver, can cause jaundice, fatigue, stomach pain, nausea and diarrhea, health officials said. Most people who contract the virus recover completely, according to the Mayo Clinic.

“We are working closely with the Health Department to ensure the safety of our customers,” Chesnutt said in a statement. “This is an isolated incident and the infected employee is no longer on premises.”

Alta, located at 64 W. 10th St., offers a romantic bistro atmosphere and 11 different desserts, including Dark Chocolate "Liquid" Truffles for $7. The restaurant garnered an "extraordinary" rating from Zagat's.

On Friday night, health officials, who most recently gave the eatery a top A rating, stopped by to discuss the possible outbreak.

Hungry West Villagers had mixed responses to the scare.

Vikram Shankar, 28, and his date ducked in to check out the menu, but decided to dine elsewhere.

"Thank god we didn't eat there," said his surprised date, who found out about the health scare after being told by DNAinfo.com New York.

"Oh my god, that's why they didn't have the pastries," said Martine Seiden, 23, from Morningside Heights. "We asked for dessert and they told us the oven was broken."

But Christian Steiner, 41, a Midtown lawyer, who said that he ate at Alta during the time period in the Health Department's warning, seemed unfazed by the potential for infection.

"Luckily we didn't want dessert. We wanted to keep drinking," he said before heading inside for dinner.

Officials encourage diners who think they may have been infected to call 311.

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