Monday, May 19, 2008

Hepatitis A Virus Back In The News

The hepatitis A outbreak in San Diego seems to be winding down. At last count, 22 people who had eaten at the Chipotle Mexican Grill in La Mesa were confirmed to be infected with hepatitis A virus. None of the restaurant's 26 employees tested positive for the virus.

The small IHOP-linked outbreak in Albuquerque, NM also seems to have petered out. Two restaurant employees and two customers were infected with hepatitis A. No additional cases have surfaced since the initial report in late April.

A sports-themed restaurant in Riga, Latvia is the focal point of yet another hepatitis A outbreak. At least 44 people, including 7 employees of the restaurant, have been infected with hepatitis A virus since March. The source of the outbreak is believed to be a restaurant employee who began to display symptoms of hepatitis on March 22, and developed jaundice on April 2nd. The employee was hospitalized April 4th.

The 36 men and 8 women who were infected with hepatitis in this outbreak became ill during April – all but one of them between April 10th and April 27th. All of them reported having visited or having worked in the Riga restaurant within the normal incubation period for hepatitis A. Forty of the 44 victims have been hospitalized. The restaurant has been closed since April 22nd for thorough cleaning and disinfection.

The Latvian public health authorities have received unofficial reports that three foreign visitors – one each from Estonia, Lithuania and Germany – to the implicated restaurant have developed hepatitis. Two cases of secondary infections in family members have also been reported.

On the other side of the pond, New Zealand is also in the throes of a hepatitis scare. A waitress at the Copthorne Hotel in Queenstown has been diagnosed with hepatitis A after being admitted to hospital. The waitress worked in the hotel's restaurant between April 11 and May 4. The hotel serves breakfast to an average of 300 guests per day, which means that as many as 6,900 people may have been exposed to infection.

Queenstown, on New Zealand's South Island, is a magnet for adventure-seeking tourists from around the world. The town offers activities that include bungee jumping, sky diving, and white-water rafting.

Anyone who ate at the Copthorne Hotel between April 11th and May 4th should be watchful for early symptoms of hepatitis A infection – nausea, vomiting, stomach aches, lack of appetite, fever – and should seek medical treatment immediately if any of these symptoms appear.

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