Scallops gone but Hepatitis A outbreak continues to expand

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Eight more people have been confirmed as victims in a Hepatitis A outbreak in Hawaii as health officials continue to ask for help from the public, health care providers and foodservice workers to stem the spread of the virus.

The outbreak, traced to frozen scallops imported from the Philippines and served raw at Genki Sushi restaurants on Oahu and Kauai, has sickened 284 adults. Onset dates of their illnesses range from June 12 through Sept. 16.

As of Wednesday’s weekly update from the Hawaii Department of Health, 71 of the victims have had symptoms so severe that they required hospitalization.

Although the state health department identified the scallops as the likely source of the outbreak on Aug. 15, closing the implicated Genki Sushi restaurants and embargoing the scallops, it is likely that new outbreak victims will continue to be identified.

Unvaccinated people can contract Hepatitis A from “contact” with infected people. Contact activities are detailed on the Hawaii health department web page dedicated to the outbreak updates.

Another transmission route can be infected foodservice workers who can be contagious well before they begin to develop symptoms. State and federal health officials consistently report it can take up to 50 days after exposure for Hepatitis A symptoms to develop.

As of Wednesday, Hawaii health officials had not reported any cases in the ongoing outbreak being transmitted via foodservice workers. However, the state is maintaining a rolling list of restaurants and other foodservice settings — such as commercial airlines — that have had one or more employees confirmed as outbreak victims.

“This list does not indicate these businesses are sources of this outbreak; at this time, no infections have been linked to exposure to these businesses. The likelihood that patrons of these businesses will become infected is very low,” according to the Hawaii health department website.

“However, persons who have consumed food or drink products from these businesses during the identified dates of service should contact their healthcare provider for advice and possible preventive care. Listed businesses will be removed from this list once 50 days have elapsed from the affected employee’s last service date while potentially infectious.”

To help contain the outbreak, health officials say people who have been in contact with outbreak victims or dined at one of the restaurants on the list during exposure periods should monitor themselves for symptoms of infection.

What to watch for and what to do
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports some people — especially children — who are infected with Hepatitis A do not have any symptoms. If symptoms occur, they usually appear two to six weeks after exposure. Symptoms usually develop over a period of several days.

If you do have symptoms, they may include fever, fatigue, loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, dark urine, clay-colored bowel movements, joint pain, and a yellowing of the skin or eyes referred to as jaundice.

Symptoms usually last less than two months, although some people can be ill for as long as six months.

Almost all people who get Hepatitis A recover completely and do not have any lasting liver damage, although they may feel sick for months. Hepatitis A can sometimes cause liver failure and death, although this is rare and occurs more commonly in persons 50 years of age or older and persons with other liver diseases, such as Hepatitis B or C.

If you have had contact with an outbreak victim or consumed food or any beverages at one of the restaurants where an employee has been confirmed as a victim, consult a doctor immediately and specifically mention your possible exposure to Hepatitis A.

Public health officials are requesting that health care providers consider the outbreak when seeing patients with Hepatitis A symptoms and conduct appropriate tests.

People exposed to the virus who have not been vaccinated can receive a post-exposure shot that is effective at avoiding infection development. However, the shot must be administer within two weeks of exposure.

Information and resources from Hawaii health officials

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