Ahi poke the culprit in hepatitis outbreak? Not so fast, say health officials

Ahi poke the culprit in hepatitis outbreak? Not so fast, say health officials
Published: Jul. 8, 2016 at 1:42 AM HST|Updated: Jul. 8, 2016 at 2:48 AM HST
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Dr. Sarah Park (Image: Hawaii News Now)
Dr. Sarah Park (Image: Hawaii News Now)

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - A popular local food item has been mentioned as a possible culprit in an outbreak of hepatitis A that has sickened 31 people on Oahu. But the state Department of Health said it isn't anywhere close to identifying a single source in what's become out of the larger food-borne disease outbreaks in recent memory.

That possible culprit is raw ahi. Especially in the popular island food, ahi poke.

"The answer is yes, we are looking at ahi poke, but it's one of many things we're looking at," said state epidemiologist Sarah Park.

Park was responding to posts in social media, where many were pointing to ahi poke as a source. On Twitter, some mentioned they wouldn't eat ahi poke because of the possible connection. At least one tweet even stated that the initial 12 cases announced on July 1 stemmed from ahi poke.

"You cannot depend on social media for your facts. You have to go by a credible source," said Park. "And I'm here to tell you, we're the ones doing the disease investigation. I'm here to tell you that we have no yet identified an actual source for the infection."

So far, there have been no food recalls -- including ahi -- connected to the outbreak.

One difficulty in finding a single source is that the 31 confirmed cases are not clustered in any one spot on Oahu. "Then maybe we could focus in and say, look at all the grocery stores in that area. Look at all the restaurants in that area," said Park.

However, that's not the case with this outbreak.

"When we look at our map of cases, it's all throughout Oahu," she said. "So the only definitive thing that tells us is that the exposure -- whatever it was or potentially still is -- is on Oahu."

Park also said more people are being vaccinated for hepatitis A since the outbreak began. However, she's received reports that some pharmacies are starting to run short on supplies of the vaccine. She said people should call their local pharmacy ahead of time to make sure they have the vaccine in stock.

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