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3 die, 500 sickened in nation's largest hepatitis A outbreak,,Associated Press

A third person died Friday and nearly 500 others who ate at a Chi-Chi's Mexican restaurant have fallen ill in the biggest known outbreak of hepatitis A in U.S.// history, making people so scared they are lining up by the thousands for vaccinations and no longer eating out.

Health investigators are focusing on whether contaminated produce - perhaps scallions - caused the outbreak at the restaurant in the Beaver Valley Mall, about 25 miles northwest of Pittsburgh.

``We're very concerned. It's very serious and we've sent a team of people out there to assist,'' said David Daigle, a spokesman for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Health officials Friday met with worried shoppers at the mall to try to squelch rumors that the virus was spreading out of control to other restaurants in the region. State Rep. Mike Veon attended a news conference at the mall and ate a sandwich he bought there.

Officials at the mall said sales at the food court were off by as much as 40 percent and sales throughout the mall were down up to 25 percent.

``I won't go to Chi-Chi's again,'' Barbara Barrickman said as she shopped at the mall. ``I know that's unfair, but that's just how I feel.''

At least 490 people have been sickened in the outbreak - believed to be the largest on record in the United States, Daigle said.

The Chi-Chi's has been shut down and the restaurant chain removed scallions from kitchens at all its 100 locations, said Bill Zavertnik, chief operating officer of the Louisville, Ky.-based company.


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