Pinellas Hepatitis Outbreak: Restaurant Liability, Symptoms, and Other Facts To Know
When you eat at a restaurant, you expect to come home with fun memories and delicious leftovers—not with an infection or disease! Unfortunately, due to a rapidly spreading hepatitis outbreak in Pinellas County, some diners received more than they paid for.
What is Hepatitis?
Hepatitis occurs when the liver—the large organ that digests food, stores energy, and removes poisons—becomes inflamed. Inflammation can be the result of drug use or excessive alcohol consumption, but viruses are the most common culprit. There are three main types of virus-caused hepatitis: A, B, and C. Hepatitis spreads when a person ingests fecal matter from an infected person. For example, if an infected person does not wash their hands after using the restroom and then touches food, anyone who eats that food has the potential to become infected. It also spreads through sex or sharing needles.
Symptoms and Risks
Hepatitis A, B, and C all have very similar symptoms, including:
- Nausea or vomiting
- Loss of appetite
- Dark-colored urine
- Stomach pain
- Jaundice or yellowing of the skin or eyes
For some people, the symptoms might be mild and go away without treatment. For others, hepatitis symptoms can be severe or long-lasting. Hepatitis is rarely fatal, but can lead to later complications, including an increased risk of liver cancer, liver failure, or cirrhosis, extensive scarring on the liver. It can also pass from a pregnant woman to her child, making hepatitis a particular concern for pregnant women.
Since it quickly spreads through food or drinks, restaurants are a common source of hepatitis outbreaks. Just one infected employee—who might not even know that they’re infected—can potentially infect hundreds of people.
Pinellas Heptatis Outbreak
This is likely what is happening with the Pinellas outbreak, which has also impacted restaurants in Pasco, Hernando, Hillsborough, and Sarasota. A wide array of establishments have been caught up in the outbreak, including Ferg’s Sports Bar in St. Petersburg, Quaker Steak and Lube in Clearwater, Toasted Monkey in St. Pete Beach, a Taco Bell in Largo, and a Starbucks in Palm Harbor.
The prominent type of hepatitis in Pinellas County right now is Hepatitis A. This type does not usually cause liver damage or chronic issues. However, patrons who ate at the impacted restaurants on certain dates should still receive hepatitis vaccinations. People can receive free vaccines at the Pinellas County Health Department.
Even though hepatitis A does not usually cause long-term problems, the idea of getting sick at a restaurant is still unsettling. Additionally, an illness like hepatitis could lead to hospital bills, lost wages from time off work, or other expenses. This is why people who contract hepatitis or other illness from a restaurant could be able to hold the restaurant liable.
Foodborne Illness Liability
Like with other foodborne illness cases, the first step in a hepatitis liability case is to determine where the exposure occurred. This can be difficult, as it can be a challenge to narrow down the exact source of an illness. For example, if only one person becomes ill after eating at a restaurant, the lack of other victims suggests that the exposure did not occur at the restaurant. On the other hand, if multiple people fall ill after all eating at the same restaurant, it will be easier to narrow down the issue.
The next step is determining who is at-fault for the outbreak. If an employee didn’t wash their hands before handling food, for example, they might seem like the responsible party. However, the restaurant could also be at fault. For example, if a restaurant knew that a worker had hepatitis but failed to take action, the restaurant could be liable for any resulting illnesses. Similarly, if a restaurant failed to notify patrons of an outbreak, it could also lead to liability issues.
Restaurant liability cases over hepatitis and other illnesses are usually complicated and never fun! That is why it’s important to be aware of recent outbreaks and your rights as a restaurant patron.
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