Infamous Outbreaks: Pittsburgh

It was 2003 but it could happen again today.

Over 650 confirmed cases of acute hepatitis A occurred in Pittsburgh. Three people died due to liver failure.

In the U.S. you can get hepatitis A, B, C, D, and E. Hepatitis A is the one you get from ingesting contaminated food or fluid. You will not be able to tell that you are eating something bad.

Hepatitis A is a virus that infects the liver. The incubation period (the time from exposure to the very first symptom) is 30 days. The first symptom is loss of appetite. If you smoke, you will even lose the taste for cigarettes. Thereafter, you will get nausea, vomiting and jaundice. If your liver is not healthy to begin with, the added injury may kill you.

The source of the Pittsburgh outbreak was traced to green onions imported from Mexico and served at the Beaver Valley Mall Chi-Chi’s Mexican restaurant.

The best way to eliminate your risk of hepatitis A is to get the vaccine. The hepatitis A vaccine has no side effects except a sore arm. It is a series of 2 shots given 6–18 months apart.

Hepatitis A vaccination is becoming more common. Pediatricians in the Southwest and elsewhere are increasingly offering it to children, but it is not nationally required. If you traveled to the developing world, you may have already received one shot before that trip.

Hepatitis A can be asymptomatic, and many adults are immune even without a history of hepatitis. So, you might consider a blood test before getting the vaccine to see if you really need it.

Winkler G. Weinberg, MD

I have been an Infectious Disease physician for over 3 decades. I am the author of No Germs Allowed!. If you liked this article, check out the book on Amazon.

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