State enlists CDC's help to find source of Hepatitis A outbreak

State enlists CDC's help to find source of Hepatitis A outbreak

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - There are close to 50 people in the islands working to track down the source of Hawaii's growing Hepatitis A outbreak, but state epidemiologist Sarah Park says it's not enough.

That's why she asked the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for help. Three CDC investigators arrived Sunday.

On top of analyzing data, they're assisting on "trace-back investigations."

"Any product, any distributor, any food establishment where we find something of interest in our investigation," Park said. "They're trying to go back and see, how could it all be linked together? Looking at inventory, invoices, asking for samples."

Investigators are fairly certain the contaminated product they're looking for has a long shelf life. It's potentially something frozen or dried.

Since the outbreak started in mid-June, more than 135 people in the islands have gotten sick. It's by far the largest outbreak of Hepatitis A in Hawaii in decades, and could soon eclipse the last national outbreak of the disease. In 2013, 162 cases of Hepatitis A were linked to frozen pomegranate seeds. At least eight people in Hawaii were sickened.

The best way to protect against Hepatitis A is by getting immunized, and pharmacies continue to see an influx of people seeking the vaccine.

The Safeway on Kapahulu Avenue is giving 50 shots a day.

"Typically, in the morning, there are people waiting for us when we open,"  said  Alanna Isobe, Safeway pharmacy manager. "It's putting extra stress in the department that we normally don't see this time of year."

Although there is no shortage of the vaccine in the islands, there is concern over where to put it all

"We are making some accommodations to maybe bring in extra refrigerators," Isobe said. "Maybe move things around so we can accommodate this Hepatitis A vaccine as well as our flu vaccine that's arriving."

Health insurer HMAA is also offering vaccination clinics to area businesses. If more than 15 people sign up, it's free.

"We do all of the back work as far as the prescriptions,"  said Amy Kohler, of HMAA. "So we contact the employer and once the consent forms are filled out, we will contact all of their doctors to get the prescriptions that are needed for the vaccination."

(Sign up by sending an email to

Hepatitis A is usually spread via contaminated food or water. Symptoms include fever, fatigue, loss of appetite, abdominal discomfort, dark urine, diarrhea, and yellow skin and eyes.

Two rounds of the Hepatitis A vaccine are needed for protection, but Park says even the first shot starts increasing immunity after two weeks.

Copyright 2016 Hawaii News Now. All rights reserved.