Hepatitis A outbreaks sicken hundreds in Hawaii

Recently, the Hilo Fish Company recalled its tuna after a few batches of the food product tested positive for hepatitis A, which is unusual. The vast majority of recalls for bacterial contamination involve salmonella and Listeria. However, Hawaii has been dealing with a number of hepatitis A outbreaks, which have spurred the Hawaii Department of Health to investigate new methods to fight the hepatitis A virus.

Usually, hepatitis A is spread through food or water contaminated with feces. Accordingly, hepatitis A outbreaks are most common in fish farming, where unsanitary conditions can lead to the rapid growth and spread of bacteria and viruses. Some of the symptoms and signs of hepatitis A include fever, vomiting, jaundice, and liver failure. While the symptoms of hepatitis A infections are usually mild, this virus can lead to death in rare cases. There are vaccines available for hepatitis A, but only 30 percent of children are vaccinated.

Where is the contaminated fish coming from?

The Santa Cruz Seafood Inc and the Sustainable Seafood Company were the two main sources from which the batches of contaminated tuna came. Some research revealed that the names of these two companies are very misleading. Sustainable Seafood Company, which is based in Vietnam, has not been accredited by any sustainability organizations. Santa Cruz Seafood Inc, another farmed seafood operation, is based in General Santos City, Philippines rather than Santa Cruz, California.

Line-caught or sustainably farmed seafood has a far lower chance of being contaminated in comparison to seafood from unmonitored and low-cost farms like the two involved in this recall.

The FDA, perhaps out of caution, released the specific retailers that had the recalled batches of fish in their inventory. These retailers are located in Oklahoma, California, and Texas and include hotels, restaurants, and poke shops.

Another outbreak of hepatitis A in Hawaii has been linked to a batch of frozen scallops distributed by two food distributors and sold at Genki Sushi restaurants. The Hawaii State Department of Health has reported that this hepatitis A outbreak has sickened more than 200 people. Due to this outbreak, all Genki Sushi restaurants on Kaui and Oahu have been closed.

Undoubtedly, these two cases of hepatitis A outbreaks highlights the importance of consumers paying attention to where their food is coming from. Unfortunately, as long as unmonitored and unsanitary seafood farms continue to exist, these outbreaks will not cease to occur.