The hepatitis A outbreak in Hawaii linked to frozen scallops imported from the Philippines has now sickened 282 people, according to the latest update from the Hawaii State Department of Health. That is an increase of six new cases since the last update on September 21, 2016.
All of the cases have been in adults. Seventy-one people have been hospitalized because their illness is so serious. That’s a hospitalization rate of 25%, slightly higher than the average 20% rate in a typical hepatitis A outbreak. Most of those sickened live on the island of Oahu. Five people live on the mainland or overseas.
Public health officials announced on August 15, 2016, that raw scallops served at Genki Sushi restaurants on Oahu and Kauai are the “likely source” of the ongoing outbreak. The product was recalled. It is Sea Port Bay Scallops (Wild Harvest, Raw Frozen) that came from the Philippines. The scallops were imported and distributed by Koha Oriental Foods. The product was embargoed and Genki Sushi restaurants on Oahu and Kauai, which served the scallops, were temporarily closed.
Since the incubation period for hepatitis A can be as long as 50 days, there may still be some people diagnosed until early October. Secondary infections, that is, people who get sick when they come into contact with ill persons, could continue for weeks beyond that.
Adding to the long incubation time is the fact that people who contract this virus are contagious for two weeks before they even know they are sick. And some people, especially young children, may not show any symptoms at all but can still spread the virus to others. Healthcare providers on the islands have been informed about this outbreak. They will notify the Department of Health immediately if any patients present with the symptoms of hepatitis A.
Those symptoms include jaundice, which is the main indicator of this illness, along with weight loss, loss of appetite, fatigue, fever, clay-colored stools, and dark urine. Most people who get hepatitis A will recover on their own within a few weeks or months. But some people, especially the elderly and those with liver disease, can become seriously ill. And some who contract this illness can be ill for as long as six months.
In addition to those sickened after consuming the scallops, employees from five restaurants and Hawaiian Airlines have been diagnosed with the illness. The Hawaii Department of Health stresses that these businesses are not linked to the outbreak and no illnesses have been linked to those sick people. But anyone who ate at those establishments should monitor themselves for the symptoms of the disease for 50 days after those visits.
If you have experienced the symptoms of hepatitis A or have been in contact with someone who has the illness, please see your doctor. Stay home from work or school and be sure to wash your hands well with soap and water after using the bathroom and before preparing food for anyone else. Good personal hygiene is one of the best ways to prevent the spread of this illness.