Hepatitis A Outbreak in Florida from Pinellas County Restaurant Leaves 18 Floridians Dead

Since Jan. 1, 2018, 18 Floridians have contracted the Hepatitis A virus and died.

More recently, a Pinellas County restaurant worker has tested positive for the disease, making this the sixth time a Pinellas County food service worker has tested positive for the disease.

A Florida Department of Health in Pinellas County epidemiological investigation confirmed Friday that an employee of the Friendly Fisherman at 150 John’s Pass Boardwalk Place in Madeira Beach was infected while working at the restaurant between May 7 and May 20.

Anyone who ate at this restaurant during this period who have not been vaccinated for hepatitis A should consider getting vaccinated, said DOH officials.

Those who ate at the Friendly Fisherman between May 7 and May 20 can receive free vaccinations at the following clinics:

  • DOH-Pinellas is offering the vaccine at the following locations Monday through Friday from 7:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.:
  • St. Petersburg: 205 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. St. N.
  • Pinellas Park: 6350 76th Ave. N.
  • Mid-County (Largo): 8751 Ulmerton Road
  • Clearwater: 310 N. Myrtle Ave.
  • Tarpon Springs: 301 S. Disston Ave.

The Florida Department of Health is closely monitoring an outbreak of the virus in Florida, and Tampa Bay is the epicenter.

The shocking numbers show that since January 2018, 1,768 people have tested positive for Hepatitis A, which is more than double the number from 2016 to 2017.

And being that we are only five months into 2019, the number of cases – 898- has already surpassed the total number of cases in 2018.

Of the 1,768 total cases in Florida from Jan. 1, 2018, to May 18, 2019, 834 of the cases were in Hillsborough, Pasco and Pinellas counties. Pinellas County had the highest number of cases – 357.

Even more shocking is that the outbreak isn’t showing signs of abating. Between May 12 and May 18, there were 89 cases reported in Florida.

The DOH confirmed 97 percent of the cases since January 2018 were contracted locally with 21 percent of the cases linked to other cases in Florida.

Here is what you need to know about Hepatitis A:

  • Hepatitis A is caused by a contagious virus that infects the liver, and can lead to serious liver problems, hospitalization and, as has been reported,  death.
  • The virus spreads through the feces of people who have the virus. If a person with the virus doesn’t wash his or her hands after going to the bathroom, feces can transfer to objects, food, drinks or drugs. When these things are shared, other people can unknowingly swallow the virus.
  • The virus can also spread through close contact, such as sexual relations.
  • Hepatitis A is a vaccine-preventable disease if given within two weeks after exposure. Those exposed should receive the first dose of the hepatitis A immunization immediately and a second dose in six months.
  • Symptoms of a hepatitis A infection include sudden onset of abdominal discomfort, dark urine, fever, diarrhea, pale white stools, and yellow skin and eyes (jaundice).
  • Anyone experiencing these symptoms should seek medical attention promptly. The DOH has set up a 24-hour hotline for people who have questions about hepatitis A. The number to call is 727-824-6932.

Florida is the third largest state in the nation, so the health department is not surprised the numbers have been rising.

The state’s ongoing opioid crisis is also a factor. The largest population of people infected are homeless men between 30 and 50 years old who use drugs.

Since January, cases have been confirmed at the following restaurants in Tampa Bay:

  • ICON Gentlemen’s Club, 18728 U.S. 19, Hudson, April 24
  • Ulele, 1810 N. Highland Ave., Tampa, Feb. 6
  • Taco Bell, 40976 U.S. 19 N., Tarpon Springs, April 12
  • Hellas Bakery, 785 Dodecanese Blvd., Tarpon Springs, March 19
  • Central Park Inc., 7657 State Road 54, New Port Richey, Jan. 19
  • Jimmy’s Fish House and Iguana Bar, 521 S. Gulfview Blvd., Clearwater Beach, March 19
  • Pollo Tropical, 2140 Gulf to Bay Blvd., Clearwater, March 25
  • Sandpipe Grille, 702 S. Pebble Beach Blvd., Sun City Center, April 3
  • Ferg’s Sports Bar & Grill, 1320 Central Ave, St. Petersburg, April 15
  • Ollies on the Beach, 6438 Clark St., Hudson, Jan. 25
  • Cracker Barrel, 5341 U.S. 19, New Port Richey, Feb. 18
  • Bob Katz Bar and Grill, 12340 U.S. 19 N., Hudson, April 1
  • Arby’s, 30263 U.S. 19 N., Clearwater, April 5
  • Silverthorn Country Club, 4550 Golf Club Lane, Spring Hill, April 12

The Florida Department of Health is actively working to vaccinate those most at risk for the hepatitis A infection including:

  • All children at age 1 year
  • People who are homeless
  • Users of recreational drugs, whether injected or not
  • Gay and bi-sexual men
  • People with direct contact with others who have hepatitis A
  • Travelers to countries where hepatitis A is common
  • People with chronic or long-term liver disease, including hepatitis B or hepatitis C
  • People with clotting-factor disorders
  • Family and caregivers of children adopted from countries where hepatitis A is common

To further complicate the Hepatitis A outbreak, symptoms of this disease do not show in everyone infected. You may be exposed to it and spread it to others without knowing that you have it. According to the Center For Disease Control and Prevention, it can take up to 50 days from exposure to the illness for symptoms to develop. If you are experiencing symptoms that point to hepatitis A, our Florida Hepatitis A Attorneys at Whittel & Melton urge you to see a doctor right away. Getting a vaccine or immunoglobulin therapy within two weeks of exposure can prevent infection.

If you have been exposed to Hepatitis A in Pinellas County or anywhere else in Florida, you may be able to pursue financial compensation for damages including medical expenses, lost wages, hospitalization, cost of medication, pain and suffering and emotional distress. Hepatitis A injuries and deaths fall under food poisoning litigation and food safety. If you are the victim of an outbreak involving Hepatitis A or you have suffered any other foodborne illness, we can help you pursue damages related to the infection.

If infected, and once you’ve received medical attention, let our Florida Injury Attorneys at Whittel & Melton help you determine the best steps to protect you and your future. We want you to know that you are not alone, and we have helped many people in your shoes hold the negligent party responsible for their carelessness. We will show you all of your options and help you make the smartest decision.

 

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