What can the 74 do to help health officials?  Being your own Jr. Epidemiologist.

baad9453-477d-4dd2-8863-4396a6691157Sitting in my hotel room on the shores of Waikiki in the remnants of tropical storm Darby, has given me time – perhaps too much – to think about this outbreak – especially after meeting with a few of the families.

The Hawaii Department of Health (HDOH) is investigating a cluster of 74 hepatitis A infections on Oahu.  Onset of illness has ranged between 6/12/16 – 7/14/16.  Sick individuals were likely exposed to the fecal human virus through food, drink or personal exposure 2 – 6 weeks prior to onset of symptoms – so the likely exposure period in 5/1/16 – 7/1/16.

HDOH staff are conducting interviews with the cases in an effort to identify the source of infection.  HDOH reports that identifying the source of infection continues to be a challenge because of the long incubation period of the disease and the difficulty patients have in accurately recalling the foods consumed and locations visited during the period when infection could have taken place.

All of the cases are residents of Oahu with the exception of two individuals who now live on the islands of Hawaii and Maui, respectively, but were on Oahu during their exposure period.

On the 74 sickened, 1 was an employee of Taco Bell and 1 was an employee of Baskin-Robbins on Oahu who worked prior to the onset of illness but during the peak exposure period.  This has caused additional community concern that the outbreak may spread to Taco Bell and Baskin-Robbins patrons.

So, what can the 74 do to help health officials find the common link?  Here are some suggestions that I am sure HDOH officials are already using:

  • Be cooperative – hepatitis A illnesses can last 2 – 6 months and victims are certainly not feeling their best, but their cooperation is vital.
  • Thinking about what you ate or drank and where may well not be that productive – trying to recall what you ate or drank several weeks ago is difficult – I can hardly recall what I ate or drank a few days ago – however, try.
  • Focus on where you have been eating and drinking in the 2 – 6 weeks prior to becoming ill – at home or out. Check your calendar, phone records and social media like Facebook and Twitter.
  • Pull your credit and debit card purchases as well as any accounts you have at grocery stores or restaurants.
  • As friends, co-workers or family what they might recall that you did over that same time.
  • Keep in contact with HDOH. Its resources are stretched and it needs your support and assistance.

With the help of the 74 (hopefully, not more), HDOH will solve this mystery and stop the spread of this potentially deadly virus.

Disease Outbreak Control Division
1250 Punchbowl Street, Room 443
Honolulu, HI 96813
Tel: (808) 587-6845
Fax: (808) 586-8347

Disease Investigation Branch
Tel: (808) 586-8362
Toll free: 1-800-360-2575
Fax: (808) 586-4595