In wake of Hepatitis A scare, clinics see surge in patients seeking vaccine

In wake of Hepatitis A scare, clinics see surge in patients seeking vaccine
Published: May. 2, 2017 at 7:23 PM HST|Updated: May. 3, 2017 at 8:59 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Pharmacies and clinics around Oahu saw a surge in patients Thursday seeking the Hepatitis A vaccine in the wake of news that poke sold at several stories might have been contaminated with the virus.

Like many other Oahu residents, Jackie Miyashiro rushed to get her second Hepatitis A shot after hearing the news.

"With everything now, you gotta be careful what you eat. It's always good to have prevention," said Miyashiro.

On Tuesday, the state Health Department announced that ahi poke sold at multiple grocery stores and eateries on Oahu may have been contaminated with Hepatitis A.

The DOH said frozen raw ahi cubes imported to the state from Indonesia by Tropic Fish Hawaii recently tested positive for the virus. The raw ahi, which is being recalled, was used to prepare poke sold between April 27 to May 1 at several locations on Oahu.

The state said the poke was sold at Times Supermarkets and Shima's locations in Aiea, Kailua, Kaneohe, Kunia, Liliha, Mililani, Waipahu, and Waimanalo.

The product was also used to prepare food served or sold by GP Hawaiian Food Catering and Maili Sunset Bar & Grill.

Tropic Fish Hawaii earlier identified Aloha Sushi at 3131 Nimitz Highway, and the ABC store at 205 Lewers St., but later issued a retraction saying Aloha Sushi did receive but did not serve or sell the product.

Likewise, the ABC store told a DOH inspector during an on-site inspection on Tuesday that the recalled product was received but not sold.

Tropic Fish said about 2,300 pounds of the potentially tainted fish was distributed on Oahu.

So far, about 1,440 pounds of the ahi has been retrieved or disposed of by businesses. That leaves some 885 pounds that is yet unaccounted for and could have been sold.

Customers who ate the product and are not vaccinated for Hepatitis A are urged to contact a doctor.

"Times Supermarkets and Tropic Fish notified the department as soon as they learned of the test results on the imported fish," said Peter Oshiro, chief of the Health Department's Food Safety Program. "All of the product is being traced, collected and held by the distributor."

Dr. Sarah Park, state epidemiologist, said it typically takes two weeks for those infected by Hepatitis A to develop symptoms and that those who believe they ate potentially tainted ahi should talk to a doctor about getting vaccinated.

"In this case, it's entirely preventable, which isn't always the case," she said. "It's thought that if you do get vaccinated with that first dose right now in this early phase you could prevent the symptoms."

Park said residents who ate poke from the affected food establishments should also monitor their symptoms, and ensure they're using good hygiene.

Symptoms of Hepatitis A infection include fever, fatigue, loss of appetite, abdominal discomfort, dark urine, diarrhea, and yellow skin and eyes.

In a news release, Times Supermarkets said when it was notified of the possible contamination Monday, affected seafood departments were closed and sanitized and all seafood products were thrown away. The seafood department have since re-opened after a review from the state Health Department.

Those who purchased the poke can seek a refund.

In all, Times said that it received some 769 pounds of the potentially tainted product.

"We have a process in place that mandates all of our suppliers to get all of the product tested for Hep A prior to it actually coming into our facility. Lo and behold, some producers were not upheld on our suppliers' end, and the product still made it into our stores," said Chris Borden, senior director of marketing and merchandising at Times Supermarkets. "Although we do not know if our shipment was actually affected, we do not want to take any chances."

Tropic Fish Hawaii said it regularly tests products distributed to Times for Hepatitis A, but that didn't happen in this case.

"Our normal procedure is to receive the test results prior to distribution, but unfortunately that did not happen with this particular shipment," said Shawn Tanoue, president of Tropic Fish Hawaii, in a news release. "We have corrected our procedures to ensure this will not happen again. I want to personally apologize to our customers and the public. We are a local company and pride ourselves in our work and in providing the highest-quality products."

An outbreak of Hepatitis A in Hawaii last year sickened hundreds of people, and more than 75 had to be hospitalized for treatment. At least one woman who ate tainted scallops died of liver failure.

Health Department officials first began investigating the outbreak in July of 2016. More than a month later, they determined that frozen scallops that were served at Genki Sushi restaurants on Oahu and Kauai were to blame for the outbreak.

As a result, 11 of the chain's eateries were shut down and to disinfect facilities from floor-to-ceiling.

For more information on Hepatitis A, click here.

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