Soapless Posh Club in NYC Could Spread Hepatitis A

Ashton Kutcher and Demi Moore partied with infected bartender.

January 08, 2009, 12:09 AM

Feb. 22, 2008 — -- A swanky nightclub in New York City is making headlines for something far less glamorous than the A-list celebs who show up to party there night after night.

Rather than clamoring for the usual fare of $12 cocktails, celebrity patrons of Socialista may instead be lining up for hepatitis A vaccinations after a bartender working there was hospitalized with the infectious disease.

A laundry list of high-profile celebrities were partying at the club Feb. 7, one of the nights the New York City Department of Health said the infected bartender was on duty. Ashton Kutcher's birthday party was that night, which brought Demi Moore, Madonna, Salma Hayek, Gwyneth Paltrow, Ivanka Trump and Bruce Willis to the club.

Anywhere between 700 and 800 people visited the bar over the three nights the employee was on duty, according to the city health department, which released a statement.

"Any patron who visited the establishment after 8 p.m. Feb. 7 or 8, or after 10 p.m. on Feb. 11 is considered to be at risk and needs a preventive shot," the statement read.

Employees who answered phone calls at Socialista did not want their names revealed nor did they want to elaborate on the incident, but one told ABC News that the employee in question, who has been identified only as Leif, was "a good friend."

She declined to comment further, because she said she "truly cared about the restaurant."

In an e-mail message to, Socialista's owner, Armin Armiri, said, "Although no additional cases of illness have been identified, the New York City Department of Health is urging customers to get the vaccination as a precautionary measure. We are grateful for their efforts and we will continue to support them in every way possible."

Calls to publicists of several of the celebrities who attended the party were no immediately returned.

Hepatitis A, a liver disease, is contracted by putting something in your mouth that has been contaminated with fecal matter from an infected person. It is frequently spread when an infected person fails to wash his or his hands after using the toilet.

Because the disease is highly contagious at it's peak -- usually 10 days before the patient notices symptoms and seeks medical attention -- doctors and hospitals must report any patient who is diagnosed with the infection. The health department must then notify anyone who may have been in contact with the individual.

Signs of infection include severe diarrhea, nausea, fatigue and sometimes jaundice, a yellowing of the eyes and skin. There is no antibiotic treatment, and those who get it must let it run its course, which usually takes about a month.

When the New York City Health Department visited Socialista Feb. 20, it found no soap for hand-washing, a precaution that is vital in preventing the infection from spreading, according to health care professionals.

"[Hepatitis A] is the least fatal overall, and most people do recover without any problems," said Dr. Douglas Holt, the associate director of infectious disease at the University of South Florida College of Medicine in Tampa. "But it's a fairly tough virus. It tends to survive in the environment longer than many other viruses."

Because the most common way to contract hepatitis A is by putting contaminated food in your mouth, Holt said it was quite possible that the disease could spread from the bartender at Socialista to patrons, especially given the absence of soap.

"If an infected person goes to the bathroom and gets bacteria in his hands and then shakes someone's hand or fixes food or drinks or even fruit to put in the drinks, there is the risk that someone else is going to get it," said Holt, who also works at the Hillsborough County Health Department. "It's even possible just from reaching into a bowl of pretzels or peanuts."

As of 2006, children haev been routinely vaccinated against the different strains of hepatitis, but adults have not necessarily received the precautionary vaccine. Holt suspects that because many travelers get vaccinated for hepatitis A before visiting regions like Eastern Europe and South America, many of the jet-setting guests at Socialista may already be protected.

If patrons who visited the club on the days in question have not been vaccinated, though, Holt strongly suggests that they get vaccinated.

"Even if one person who has it has a mild illness they could expose their brand-new baby or their elderly relatives to it and then we have a secondary or third case on our hands," said Holt, who noted that young children and the elderly usually contract more serious strains of the infection. "It's about protecting those individuals but also in the small or possible chance you spread it to somebody else you're trying to put the kibosh on this. Get the vaccine."

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