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Outbreak News

Hepatitis clinic draws crowds

3,000 people wait for hours

By Jessica T. Lee, Globe Correspondent

June 19, 2004

ARLINGTON -- Five-year-old Allison Carey paid a high price for a peanut butter sundae: She was one of about 3,000 people who waited three hours or more yesterday for a free hepatitis A inoculation after a waitress for a Friendly's restaurant was diagnosed with the disease last Monday.

Arlington public health officials urged anyone who ate at the restaurant between June 4 and 15 to get a shot because the worker would have been most contagious during the two weeks prior to showing symptoms. Their concerns were heightened after Friendly's was cited Tuesday for health violations, including lack of proper hand washing by workers, poor food preparation practices, unwashed salad, and failure to refrigerate eggs and cheese. The restaurant, at 105 Broadway St., was issued an emergency closure order Tuesday afternoon.

Friendly Ice Cream Corp. issued a press release yesterday saying that all of the Arlington restaurant's employees have been inoculated and have also received "refresher training in safe food handling procedures." The company said it hopes to reopen the restaurant early next week.

According to the local Board of Health, the company estimated that in the last two weeks, 3,800 people may have been exposed to hepatitis A, which is a contagious viral disease that causes the liver to swell and is spread through fecal contamination.

Yesterday, at the Symmes Hospital site, health officials administered immune globulin, which can prevent illness or reduce the severity of symptoms if given within two weeks of exposure.

"If somebody's been exposed to hepatitis A, they're basically getting a shot to prevent the illness from actually making them ill," said Christine Connolly director of public health for the town of Arlington.

"It's very rare that a situation like this happens," added Connolly. She arranged to have 2,300 doses of immune globulin on hand at Symmes, but the crowd was estimated to exceed that supply.

"They expected several thousand people, but it looks like half of Arlington is here," said Wayne Springer, the deputy fire chief.

The queue snaked across a parking lot, up and down stairs. When people were finally admitted into the building, they waited in yet more lines. One elderly woman fainted in line and was taken to a hospital after emergency medical technicians examined her. A fire official had no further information on her condition.

In spite of the rainy weather, several of the former Friendly's patrons joked about the inoculation -- the shot is given in the buttocks -- and chanted "Bring back Brigham's."

"I'm expecting a coupon at the door," laughed Robert Calautti of Arlington. "Three little girls just assured me that [the shot] wasn't too painful, so that's not what I'm worried about."

Allison Carey was worried, however. "I don't want to," she said before hiding her face against her father, Ken Carey. The Arlington residents ate macaroni and cheese at Friendly's last Friday, and finished their meals with sundaes.

"I'm concerned from the perspective of the reason for having to have the shot and how Friendly's maintains the quality of the restaurant," Ken Carey said. "Will we go back? Probably not."

After waiting in line for 2 hours, the Careys received their shots and went home, with Allison clutching a lollipop and smiling.

Although the clinic was not supposed to open until 9 a.m., the first person arrived just after 7 a.m. and the barrage continued from there.

"I'm at the point where I'm going to ask people in line if they're willing to help after they get the shot," an overwhelmed Connolly said. She commended various departments in Arlington and neighboring towns for their help.

The Board of Health will sponsor another free clinic Monday, from 3 to 7 p.m.

No customers have fallen ill, but public health officials advise people who may have been exposed and were unable to get a shot within two weeks to watch for symptoms -- nausea, vomiting, fever, yellowing of the eyes, and brown urine -- and to consult their health care providers if they become sick.

Friendly Ice Cream Corp.'s stock price fell 83 cents to $12.69 yesterday on the American Stock Exchange, a 6.1 percent drop.

Jessica T. Lee can be reached at jtlee@globe.com.

More on this outbreak: Friendly's Hepatitis A Exposure

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