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It is Time to Vaccinate against Hepatitis A

Sunday, November 6, 2016 12:02
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It’s not just for travelers and people at risk anymore.

I spent the last day meeting with the family of a woman that died too young from complications of Hepatitis A after eating tainted scallops from the Philippines. I represent nearly 80 others from that same outbreak – many who have been hospitalized, and even months after consuming scallops, they are still not back to normal health.  Over the years I have represented hundreds of others who became ill from this vaccine preventable foodborne illness.  Think about some of the outbreaks in the recent past:

  • Over 500 were sickened (and five died and one person needed a liver transplant) in the 2003 Chi-Chi’s Hepatitis A outbreak linked to green onions from Mexico.
  • In 2013 at least 165 were sickened by frozen pomegranates from Turkey sold in a frozen berry mix at Costco – dozens were hospitalized, some with severe complications.
  • Currently there are at least 140 with Hepatitis A linked to Tropical Smoothie Cafes tied to imported frozen Egyptian strawberries – a nation-wide recall has been announced recalling the suspect strawberries from January 2016 because others may well be at risk.

And, let’s not forget the dozens of outbreaks that have been caused by ill food handlers – many who have recently returned from vacation in areas where Hepatitis A is common.  Over the years I have become a bit of a broken record (that saying shows my age) advocating for vaccinating food service workers.  Recall, people are most infectious before they show symptoms or feel ill.  So, before a restaurant owner knows he has a problem that can damage customers and business the problem is already a problem.  In 2000, I represented dozens of people sickened after consuming sandwiches at a Seattle area Subway – one young boy required a liver transplant.  The cause was an employee who returned from vacation with a brewing Hepatitis A illness.

Fact:  Hepatitis A is endemic in most of the world except the United States and Western Europe.

The CDC suggests that a Hepatitis A vaccination is recommended for: “All children at age 1 year, Travelers to countries that have high rates of Hepatitis A, Family members or caregivers of a recent adoptee from countries where Hepatitis A is common, Men who have sexual contact with other men, Users of injection and non-injection illegal drugs, People with chronic (lifelong) liver diseases, such as Hepatitis B or Hepatitis C, People who are treated with clotting-factor concentrates and People who work with Hepatitis A infected animals or in a Hepatitis A research laboratory.”

However, the CDC also says that that you can contract Hepatitis A “through direct person-to-person contact (fecal-oral transmission); contaminated water, ice, or shellfish harvested from sewage-contaminated water; or from contaminated raw, inadequately cooked, or frozen fruits, vegetables, or other foods.”

So, getting a Hepatitis A vaccine is not just for travelers and people at risk anymore.  It is for everyone that eats imported food items from areas where Hepatitis A is endemic.  You do not need to travel to be at risk, now the risk is imported for your consumption.

I would urge the CDC to add consumers of imported “shellfish harvested from sewage-contaminated water; or from contaminated raw, inadequately cooked, or frozen fruits, vegetables, or other foods” to its list of who should be vaccinated.


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