The Hawaii State Department of Health (DOH) says another restaurant worker has been infected with Hepatitis A.
Health officials say the patient is an employee at Taco Bell in Waipio, which is also a Pizza Hut.
DOH says that you may have been exposed to the disease if you consumed any food or drink products from this store from June 16 through July 11, 2016 (actual dates: June 16, 17, 20, 21, 24, 25, 28, 29, 30, and July 1, 3, 4, 6, 7, and 11).
The health department says that unvaccinated individuals should contact their healthcare providers about the possibility of receiving hepatitis A vaccine or immune globulin, which may provide some protection against the disease if administered within the first two weeks after exposure.
State epidemiologist Dr. Sarah Park notes that the source of the infection of this outbreak still has not been identified. While the two restaurant cases are in Central Oahu, the rest are island-wide.
“It’s all scattered. We hope we can start to see something focus and there’s nothing,” she said. “We’re trying to look at all the cases and trying to parse them out in different ways.”
Park says it’s likely a food or drink item that’s commonly consumed and probably being distributed only on Oahu.
“We’re trying to see what is sourced, whether food or drink, primarily on Oahu that’s different from the neighbor islands, because that may be a way to identify what the potential source could have been,” she said.
Earlier this week, an employee of Waikele Baskin-Robbins was also confirmed as being infected by the virus.
While officials have not released the latest number of cases, the health department warns that additional food service establishments may be affected as the number of cases continues to grow.
The state has contacted the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Food and Drug Administration for help.
The outbreak is alarming for the restaurant industry. There are concerns that people will be reluctant to eat out.
Health officials point out that the virus has not spread from either of the restaurants.
“These are merely places where the victims were employed. The likelihood that patrons of these food establishments will become infected is very low, but to prevent possible additional cases, we are notifying the public so they may seek advice and help from their healthcare providers,” Park explained in a press release.
Hawaii Restaurant Association executive director Gregg Fraser says there’s no reason for Oahu diners to stop going to their favorite eateries.
“Not only do you wash your hands when you’re departing the restroom as an employees, but you also wash your hands as you’re coming into the kitchen,” he said. “They have another hand sink as you enter back in the kitchen, because you may have come in contact with something between the restroom and the kitchen.”
As for those who may have been infected and are over 40 years old, the health department recommends that they are given a shot of what’s known as immune globulin, which can help fight the infection faster.
“Those persons may not be able to mount a robust immune response, may not be able to develop antibodies quickly enough or to enough degree to protect themselves,” Park said.
Individuals exhibiting symptoms of hepatitis A should stay home and contact their healthcare provider. All food service employees should strictly adhere to good handwashing and food handling practices.
Symptoms of hepatitis A infection include fever, fatigue, loss of appetite, abdominal discomfort, dark urine, diarrhea, and yellow skin and eyes.
Earlier this month, Park told KHON2 this is an especially hard disease to trace, because the incubation period for hepatitis A can last anywhere from two weeks to as long as 50 days.
All cases have been in adults on Oahu.
While vaccination provides the best protection, frequent handwashing with soap and warm water after using the bathroom, changing a diaper, and before preparing food can help prevent the spread of hepatitis A. Appropriately cooking foods can also help prevent infection.
Health officials recommend that you:
- Get vaccinated
- Frequent hand washing with soap and warm water after using the bathroom or changing a diaper
- Washing hands before preparing food
- Appropriately cooking and preparing foods
The hepatitis A vaccine requires two doses given at least six (6) months apart. For a list of vaccinating pharmacies, click here (PDF) or call the Aloha United Way information and referral line at 2-1-1.
Additional information about hepatitis A can be found on the DOH website at http://health.hawaii.gov/docd/dib/disease/hepatitis-a/.