While the Hawaii Department of Health says it’s nailed down the likely source of the hepatitis A outbreak, that doesn’t mean it’s over.
The DOH says since last week, 38 more cases of hepatitis A have been confirmed, bringing the total to 206. Fifty-one of those people had to be hospitalized.
One of the new confirmed cases was a food service worker at Hokkaido Ramen Santouka, a popular ramen shop on Kaheka Street, outside Don Quijote.
The employee worked on July 21-23 and 26-30, and Aug. 2-6 and 9-11, 2016.
Health officials stress that this does not mean the restaurant was the source of the outbreak, and are providing the information to the public as a precaution in an attempt to prevent any new cases. The likelihood that patrons of this business will become infected is very low.
“Even though we’ve identified and work to confirm the likely source of the overall outbreak, we may continue to see new cases with hepatitis A infection like this person because of how long ago people would have been exposed,” said state epidemiologist Dr. Sarah Park. “Our work to control further spread of disease is not yet over.”
On Aug. 16, the department identified uncooked scallops served at Genki Sushi restaurants on Oahu and Kauai as the likely source and shut down those restaurants.
“We felt confident enough that finally we had the data and amassed enough data to be able to say look, there’s a strong association. We can’t deny it. It’s undeniable that the strong association is our cases, most of our cases ate at Genki Sushi restaurants and primarily on Oahu, as well as one on Kauai,” explained state epidemiologist Dr. Sarah Park. “That association also matched up with our product trace back investigation was also showing in terms of shipment of product.”
Seventy-percent of those infected said they ate at the sushi chain, but health officials are still concerned that the other 30 percent don’t remember eating there.
Because of that, they say the investigation isn’t over, and there’s a possibility another product could be involved.
“We can guess that probably some of them did go to a Genki and we just need to go back and ask them. They just didn’t remember,” Park said. “If we’re looking at this scallop product, is there the potential that it could’ve been sourced elsewhere? Maybe not through this major distributor, maybe privately, maybe in another shape or form. So we want to track down every possible or potential exposure risk, because this is about the public’s health in making sure this outbreak comes to an end sooner or later.”
We asked about introducing a new regulation to get all food service workers vaccinated for hepatitis A, but officials say that would not have prevented the outbreak since the contamination started with a product.
Vaccination provides the best protection from hepatitis A, so any person who consumed food or beverage products prepared or served at this business during the identified periods may want to contact their healthcare providers about receiving a vaccine or immune globulin (IG). This may provide some protection against the disease if administered within two weeks after exposure.
A statewide list of vaccinating pharmacies can be found here, or by calling the Aloha United Way information and referral line at 2-1-1.