Hawaii’s Hepatitis A outbreak continues to grow even after state health officials identified the source of the virus. The outbreak, now the state’s largest-ever Hepatitis A outbreak, has prompted a class action against the Genki Sushi chain of restaurants that could potentially include 10,000 or more plaintiffs – essentially anyone who dined at a Genki Sushi location in Oahu or Kauai during the past five months, lawyers involved in the case say.
On Aug. 15, the Hawaii Department of Health determined that raw, frozen scallops imported from the Philippines were the source of the Hepatitis A virus that has sickened at least 228 people, including 58 who required hospitalization.
Health officials found that Genki Sushi used the raw scallops in some of the sushi it served and subsequently ordered 11 of the restaurant chain’s locations to temporarily close.
Lead plaintiff Bryan Cuelho of Waialua allegedly ate the contaminated scallops at a Genki Sushi location in Waikele, Oahu, on Aug. 6. News of the outbreak prompted him to get a hepatitis A vaccination on Aug. 16.
Health officials advised anyone who ate sushi at a Genki Sushi location in the past two weeks to receive a post-exposure hepatitis A vaccination or immune globulin shot, which are still effective against the virus in the incubation stage. It can take up to 50 days for symptoms of hepatitis A to manifest.
Inside the body, the hepatitis A virus causes the liver to swell and prevents it from functioning properly. Symptoms include fatigue, nausea, abdominal pain, loss of appetite, and fever. Some people may also experience joint or muscle pain, diarrhea, vomiting, dark urine, itching, weight loss, or yellow skin and eyes.
The virus is highly contagious and extremely hardy. It is able to survive freezing temperatures as well as the body’s highly acidic digestive tract. Hepatitis A can also survive outside of the body for months.
“This is a class action lawsuit brought on behalf of all persons who were exposed, by consumption of adulterated food and drink, to the Hepatitis A virus, HAV, at the defendant Genki Sushi USA Inc.’s restaurants during the exposure period from April through August 2016,” the class action complaint states.
“The plaintiff and class-members were required for public health and personal safety reasons to obtain Hepatitis A vaccination or an IG shot — with some persons also getting an HAV blood test — because of their exposure at the defendant Genki Sushi USA Inc.’s restaurants.”
Lawyers in the case also hope to raise awareness in the public and in the corporate world about the importance of getting a hepatitis A virus vaccination, especially for workers in the food service industry, as they can be instrumental in the spread of the virus when infected.
Because hepatitis A symptoms can take so long to show up, health officials expected the number of reported cases to increase over the coming weeks.
The class action lawsuit, filed Aug. 24 in Hawaii’s First Circuit Court, names as defendants Genki Sushi USA, scallop importer Sea Port Products, and distributor Koha Oriental Foods.