The total is now 135 with onset of illness ranging between 6/12/16 – 7/24/16. Given the long exposure dates is it likely a non-perishable, but ready to eat product – like frozen fruits or vegetables – be the cause of the outbreak?
Courtney Teague of the Civil Beat reports that Hawaii Department of Health representatives briefed state legislators on efforts to control Hepatitis A Monday.
Sarah Park, state epidemiologist, said during the hearing that the Hepatitis A outbreak has infected 135 unvaccinated adults. The vast majority – 126 cases – have been on Oahu, while eight more are on neighbor islands and one infected visitor is back on the mainland, she said.
None of those cases have involved military personnel, Park said, because service members are required to be vaccinated. The Hepatitis A vaccine was developed in 1995 and became a standard practice starting for children born in 2006, Park said.
Studies since then have shown that the vaccine works for at least 20-25 years, she said, and could last a lifetime.
The DOH suspects the source of the outbreak is a food product predominantly sold on Oahu, but could be sold on neighbor islands to a lesser extent. Park declined to name the specific products DOH is reviewing.
Symptoms for the disease can take one to two weeks to show, and sometimes even longer. Many Hepatitis A outbreaks go unsolved because it’s difficult for victims to recall everything they’ve eaten for the past several weeks, Park said.
Patients often get exhausted answering questions during the lengthy interview process, Park said.
Hawaii’s current outbreak involves a “sub-type,” Hepatitis 1A, that is different than anything in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s database, Park said. There are two other Hepatitis A outbreaks in the U.S. right now.
In the frantic scramble to address Hepatitis A, there have been misunderstandings. Park said food businesses with infected employees have suffered financially, although it’s unlikely customers are in danger.
There’s also been confusion with workers at some vaccination clinics saying they only take certain types of insurance, Park said. Some clinics require a prescription for the vaccine, while others have a physician on hand to accommodate walk-ins, she said.
Vaccines have to be imported to the islands, Park said, and in the event that supplies are restricted, vaccines are limited to populations at high risk for more serious infection.
Park said the Hepatitis A outbreak has caused a spike in adult vaccinations. Before the outbreak and during the week of June 13, 136 adults were vaccinated. During the week of July 18, 1,725 adults were vaccinated, Park said. More children were vaccinated as well.
About seven DOH staff members have been working on the outbreak since its onset, Park said. Employees from other departments like the Sanitation Branch and Disease Investigation have joined the effort. Now, 49 staff members are working on the outbreak. But Park said that with the heavy workload, staff members are beginning to tire out. She’s asking for even more help from another branch that usually deals with sexually transmitted diseases. Nurses are also being recruited, Park said.