A deadly outbreak of hepatitis A in San Diego may have spread to a beachside restaurant. The county health department confirmed on Friday that an employee at World Famous restaurant (711 Pacific Beach Dr.) in the Pacific Beach neighborhood may have been exposed to hepatitis A, a contagious viral infection that causes inflammation of the liver. Officials are advising that anyone who ate or drank at the restaurant on during the following dates and times visit a physician and potentially receive a vaccination as a precaution:
- 3 p.m. to 11 a.m. on August 28, 29, and 30
- 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. on September 3 and 4
- 3 p.m. to 11 p.m. on September 10 and 11
County public health centers are currently offering free hepatitis A vaccinations.
San Diego County is currently facing one of the largest outbreaks of hepatitis A in decades. Over the past 10 months, at least 421 people have been sickened and 16 killed by the infection, according to CNN. Hepatitis A is transmitted through contaminated food and water and through direct contact with an infected person.
The issue is believed to have partially stemmed from unsanitary conditions and has disproportionately impacted homeless individuals, drug users, and people who interact with the homeless. San Diego County recently instituted several measures to combat the rising number of infections, such as opening up new portable public toilets in downtown and washing and sanitizing sidewalks with bleach solution, NPR reports.
Word of a possible connection with a restaurant employee raised public concern that the outbreak could impact the food service industry and its customers. Transmission of the virus in the food service industry is rare so long as workers are taking care to wash their hands, according to the San Diego Union-Tribune. Many restaurants in the area are taking time to make sure workers are updated on good hygiene procedures including washing their hands, wiping down menus, and making sure customers dining at restaurants are wearing shoes when they come off the beach.
World Famous restaurant closed on Tuesday, after being informed that one of its workers may have come in contact with the virus through their spouse. It’s not been confirmed whether the restaurant employee has contracted the virus nor whether the initial infection was related to the current outbreak, and inspectors found no evidence of hepatitis A contamination at the restaurant. Still, World Famous hired a private hazardous materials company to deep clean the facility as a precaution. The restaurant reopened on Wednesday. “We understand the severity of this issue and will do everything we can to ensure a safe environment for all,” the owners said in a statement on Facebook.
Symptoms, which can last for several months, include fever, malaise, loss of appetite, diarrhea, nausea, abdominal discomfort, dark urine, and yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes. The incubation period ranges from 14 to 50 days Infection can be prevented through vaccination and most people who are infected make a full recovery and develop an immunity to the virus.
While hepatitis A outbreaks in the food service industry are rare, when left unchecked they can wreak havoc. Last year, more than 150 people were infected with the virus and dozens hospitalized after eating raw scallops at a chain of sushi restaurants in Hawaii called Genki Sushi. In 2015, a diner filed a lawsuit against a McDonald’s franchisee in Waterloo, New York, after the county identified a case of hepatitis A in of on the restaurant’s employees.
• Hepatitis A Case Reported at Pacific Beach Restaurant [San Diego County]
• San Diego County Tackles Hepatitis A After Outbreak Kills 16 [CNN]
• San Diego Washing Streets With Bleach To Combat Hepatitis A Outbreak [NPR]
• Restaurants, Diners Taking Precautions After Latest Hepatitis A Scare [San Diego Union-Tribune]
• All DOH Coverage [E]