More than 200 people in Hawaii have contracted hepatitis A after eating frozen scallops imported from the Philippines. Fifty-one of them have been hospitalized, and it’s expected that more may still end up experiencing symptoms of the virus. I’m horrified to hear this — not just because of the people who have fallen ill, but because I didn’t even know you could get hepatitis A through food contamination.
Usually it’s spread through fecal-oral contact, aka, people not washing their hands well enough (seriously people, wash your hands). But apparently it can linger in food for months, and once you’re infected, it can take up to 15 days to show any symptoms. The virus attacks your liver, and usually causes flu-like symptoms that last for a week, though it generally takes 3 to 6 months to recover completely (and sometimes up to a year).
So, how can you protect yourself?
Luckily, most kids these days are given a hepatitis A vaccine. If you’re over 40, though, chances are you didn’t receive the vaccine as a kid, and you should talk to your doctor about getting it.
The other option is less fun (if you love sushi, that is): Stop eating raw foods. Hepatitis A can’t survive in fully cooked food, so if you are adamant about food safety or pregnant or otherwise immunocompromised, that’s your best bet. But in a lot of places, including Hawaii, eating raw seafood is a big part of the food culture, so people may be reluctant to give it up.
Luckily, the source of the current outbreak was discovered, so it is under control. The restaurants serving the contaminated scallops were closed until they could remove the offending food and sanitize the kitchen, and their distributor has changed its scallop supplier.
Still, it’s just one more thing to be aware of when eating out. It turns out E. coli and listeria aren’t the only things we need to be worried about when it comes to foodborne illnesses.