Chi-Chi’s Hepatitis A Outbreak
Pennsylvania State health officials first learned of a potential HAV outbreak from emergency room doctors in Beaver County, who reported an unusually high number of hepatitis A cases in late October, 2003. Investigators from the health department began investigating the people who had fallen ill, and determined that the common thread for all was having eaten at the Chi Chi’s restaurant at the Beaver Valley Mall. Once the department isolated the restaurant as the probable source of the outbreak, Chi Chi’s closed the restaurant voluntarily and it remained closed for a number of weeks.
Ultimately, over 650 confirmed cases, both primary and secondary, were linked to this outbreak. The victims included at least 13 employees of the Chi Chi’s restaurant, and numerous residents of six other states. Four persons died as a consequence of their hepatitis A illnesses. In addition, more than 9,000 persons who had eaten at the restaurant during the period of potential exposure, or who had been exposed to ill persons, obtained immune globulin shots as protection against the hepatitis A virus.
The Pennsylvania Department of Health and the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), along with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), conducted further studies investigating the incident. The FDA issued a statement dated December 9, 2003, reaffirming that this outbreak was associated with eating raw or undercooked green onions.