As Dan Fitzpatrick reported for his Pittsburgh Post-Gazette story, Hepatitis waning, but costs continue to climb, the Chi Chi’s hepatitis A outbreak in Beaver County is causing serious money problems for local families and businesses.

There is not one local business “where I cannot think of a person affected,” said Beaver County Chamber of Commerce director Cynthia Gitnik.

The work of tabulating the financial impact of the nation’s worst outbreak of hepatitis A is just beginning, and so far it is hard to predict how much it will cost.

I am representing more than 80 of the hepatitis A victims. As Fitzpatrick reported, I predict that as much as $25 million has already been spent on medical costs and lost in wages. Eventually, the costs could top $100 million, once pain and suffering charges are tacked on to damage claims in court.

“What you are looking at is a substantial economic loss to the citizens of Pennsylvania,” he said.

Other attorneys involved in the case backed away from Marler’s $100 million prediction. An examination of past outbreaks shows that the impact most likely will run into the millions but certainly will not dent a local economy that generates output of about $112 billion annually and total annual wages of about $37 billion.

Looking to the past as a guide, similar outbreaks in other parts of the country have varied in economic impact, averaging a cost per person of anywhere from $1,817 to $3,837. A 1996 Denver food-borne outbreak affected 43 people and cost the community $800,000, according to one study. A 1997-1998 Hepatitis A attack in Spokane, Wash., sickened 590 people and resulted in an economic impact of $2.25 million, according to another study.

But Pittsburgh’s case is arguably much more severe — and thus more expensive.