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Florida hepatitis A outbreak

By Rachel Brooks

Contributor | Telegraph Local 

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Hepatitis is sweeping the nation. From Yakima County, Washington, across the Midwest and now in Florida. Citing Outbreak News Today, the Florida Department of Health continues to battle a hepatitis A outbreak that has grown within the state over the past two years_that’s right, two years_ up to 3,700 cases. 

The week ending November 30, 2019, officials reported 38 additional outbreak cases. Of all the hepatitis A cases reported in Florida over the duration of the outbreak watch, 51 deaths are attributed to a rash that spans from October 31, 2019, into the present. 

The St. Augustine Record has some insights. Duval and Lee Counties, Florida cite the highest spike in hepatitis A cases. Each county reported six unique cases of hepatitis. Total numbers of hepatitis A cases in Duval and Lee this year respectively are Duval 48 and Lee 96. 

Probably the most pressing question today. Are all of the hepatitis A cases somehow connected? Hepatitis A is a liver virus that can pass from food and drinks. In the case reported in Yakima, WA the origin of hepatitis A was found in a Popeye’s in Yakima City. The midwest case was reported passing through fresh conventional blackberries that sold in Fresh Thyme groceries. 

Florida Health Department Twitter hepatitis A outbreak has been an ongoing health emergency in Florida

This has been an ongoing problem for over a year that the Florida Department of Health has addressed on record on more than one occasion. Citing Spectrum News 13 guest speaker Dr. Kevin Sherin, urban areas are the most heavily impacted by hepatitis A outbreaks. 

Lt. Gov. Jeanette M. Nunez urges Floridians to get vaccinated, from Twitter 

Citing Medical News Today, Florida declared the hepatitis A situation an emergency in August 2019. The source was not clearly known at that time, although officials were looking into it. Medical News Today was not clear on the source of the initial infection. However, we know that hepatitis A passes through contaminated food and drink that crosses contact with fecal matter.  Food and drink can be contaminated through floodwater, groundwater from construction, etc. It is possible that the infection is spreading due to the lengthy hurricane repairs from recent critical hurricane seasons in the region. 

Health officials also identified a case of hepatitis A in a Sarasota restaurant worker within the past two weeks, citing Herald Tribune. This may have contributed to the spread in some areas surrounding Sarasota. This worker who was employed at the P.F. Chang’s located on 766 South Osprey Ave. from November 6-17 quote “may have been infectious.” Telegraph Local is investigating the P.F. Chang’s location franchise food sourcing to see if it is possible that the employee themself was infected by handling food or drink at the restaurant. 

As grocers and restaurants across the US have had hepatitis A outbreaks in recent days, around the same time as the P.F.Chang’s in Sarasota, FL was reported, we have to question a possible supply chain connection. We know from Sarasota Co. GIS that this P.F.Chang’s is in the building owned by Bayou Associates Ltd. and is under the franchise code 722511 which is the code for full-service restaurants.

Telegraph Local is searching for possible connections between the product sourcing process for this franchise location and the food sourcing distribution services for the other establishments that outbreaks spurred from. The search is looking for a possible common produce source between the Fresh Thyme markets in the Midwest and the Popeye’s in Yakima. These locations had hepatitis A outbreaks on or near the same dates so inferring a possible correlation is logical. Check back for more soon. 

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