Hepatitis A is a short-term liver infection caused by the highly contagious hepatitis A virus. The illness can last for months but typically isn’t fatal. That’s why it’s notable that in the last three months, two restaurant-related outbreaks have included deaths.
How Do You Get Hepatitis A?
In restaurant-associated outbreaks, transmission usually occurs when an infected food handler uses the bathroom and does not wash hands properly. That’s because the hepatitis A virus s shed in the stool of an infected person and transmitted to others through the fecal-oral route. This means that people get hepatitis A when they consume food or beverages that are contaminated with microscopic amounts of fecal matter from an infected person.
There is no treatment for hepatitis A infections, but vaccination can prevent illness even if it is done up to two weeks after exposure. The problem is it can take as long as seven weeks for symptoms of a hepatitis A infection to develop. By that time, the window for vaccination has passed. Without being notified of possible exposure in a timely fashion, an unvaccinated person who contracts hepatitis A just has to cope with the symptoms which include yellowing of the skin or eyes, dark urine, clay-colored stools, fatigue, fever, nausea, decreased appetite, and abdominal cramps. These symptoms can last weeks or months as the liver works to heal itself.
Famous Anthony’s Hepatitis A Outbreak
In October 2021, three Famous Anthony’s restaurants in Roanoke, VA were linked to a hepatitis A outbreak that sickened more than 50 people. Thirty-one people were hospitalized and four people died. Health officials said a Famous Anthony’s employee who had hepatitis A and worked at three of the restaurant’s locations was the source of the outbreak.
A number of hepatitis A lawsuits have been filed in association with that outbreak. On January 10, 2022, the owners of Famous Anthony’s filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection for two of the locations linked to the outbreak. Their attorney told local media that the bankruptcy reorganization would allow them to outline a payment schedule for the lawsuit claims.
The number of deaths associated with the Famous Anthony’s hepatitis A outbreak is twice the number of all confirmed hepatitis A fatalities reported in Virginia in the two-and-a-half-year period prior to the outbreak, according to information from the state health department. During that same period, a total of three confirmed cases were reported in the Roanoke health district where the Famous Anthony’s restaurants associated with the outbreak are located.
Gino’s Pizzeria & Ristorante Hepatitis A Outbreak
Last week, a hepatitis A outbreak linked to Gino’s Ristorante & Pizzeria in West Norriton, PA was announced by local health officials. The outbreak includes nine confirmed and two suspected cases of hepatitis A. Seven people have been hospitalized and two people have died. Hepatitis A has been confirmed as the cause of one of those deaths, the other is still under investigation. The Montgomery County Department of Public Health said it is likely the exposures occurred in November, but it has closed the restaurant, located at 2401 W. Main St., for the duration of the investigation.
In August 2021, the Pennsylvania Department of Health issues a Health Advisory about an increase in hepatitis A cases. The number of cases reported began increasing in 2018, dipped during 2020, and began rebounding again in 2021.
Between January 2018 and August 2021, 80 percent of Virginians sickened with hepatitis A were so sick they required hospitalization, and 15 death were reported.
The increase in cases in Virginia and Pennsylvania mirrors a national trend.
Recent Increase in Hepatitis A Cases Nationwide
After public health officials began recommending the hepatitis A vaccine in 1996, case numbers in the U.S. declined sharply. In 2000, about 14,000 cases were reported, in 2011 there were fewer than 2,000. Until 2016, annual case totals hovered between 1,200 and 1,800. That year, there were two foodborne hepatitis A outbreaks.
But 2016 was also the year when a surge in cases among people who use injectable drugs and people experiencing homelessness began, according to the CDC. Since 2016, 37 states have reported hepatitis A outbreaks attributed to these sources. Twenty-three of those statewide outbreaks were ongoing in 2021. Together they have resulted in 42,835 illnesses, 26,057 hospitalizations, and 402 deaths.
In 2019, the most recent year of data available from the CDC, 18,846 were reported, that’s more than 10 times the average number of cases reported between 2011 and 2015 and represents a 1,325 percent increase from 2015 through 2019. And because health officials believe hepatitis A infections are significantly underreported, the CDC estimates the actual number of cases in 2019 was closer to 37,700.
Hepatitis A Deaths are Rare
Although the fatality rate for hepatitis A infections has ticked up as case numbers have risen since 2016, deaths from this virus are still rare, fewer than one-half of 1 percent of cases are fatal, according to the CDC. But the fatality rate for both of the recent restaurant outbreaks is much higher than that. Famous Anthony’s is 8 percent outbreak and the Gino’s is 9 percent with one confirmed death, 18 percent if or when the second is confirmed.
People with liver disease are at increased risk of developing severe infections from hepatitis A. This risk becomes greater the older the patient is. Local health officials have not released any information about the people sickened in these outbreaks, so it is not known if any, liver disease was a contributing factor in these outbreaks.
Experienced Hepatitis A, Wrongful Death Lawyers
If you have been sickened in this outbreak or experienced the wrongful death of a loved one and would like a free consultation about filing a lawsuit, please contact our experienced hepatitis A lawyers. You can reach them by calling 1-888-377-8900, sending a text to 612-261-0856, or by completing the form below. There is no obligation and we don’t get paid unless we win.