Is There A Hepatitis A Epidemic In Los Angeles?David Goldstein
(CBS) LOS ANGELES
"Cold, cold, cold, clammy and then sweating."
Michael Bravo thought he had the flu -- until one of his co-workers noticed his eyes.
"They're, like, reptile yellow. They're scary looking. I looked in a rear view mirror where we were working and I said, ‘oh my God.’"
The Southern California actor had contracted hepatitis A in October. His blood levels still aren't normal.
"If it doesn't get back to normal, I could lose my liver."
He's not the only one. In hundreds of pages of internal reports, emails and notes we've obtained from the L.A. County Health Department -- investigators are trying to piece together how widespread the outbreak is -- and who is responsible."
Hepatitis A is a virus that could be spread through fecal matter. More than 300 cases were reported between August and December of last year. That's four times more than in 2004!
And so far in January of this year there have been 84 cases reported.
"Is this an epidemic with hepatitis A? That's hard to say."
Dr. Elizabeth Bancroft of the L.A. County Health Department is still unsure of what to make of it.
Documents show some cases could be linked to Downtown L.A. restaurants.
In November – five employees at Cafe Pinot on Fifth Street came down with hepatitis A. Another outbreak was among customers at La Golondrina restaurant on Olvera Street. No cause was found.
A third outbreak was at Huntington Gardens in November. A catering service provided food on a movie shoot where Bravo and 17 others came down with hepatitis A after eating salad.
The documents show that outbreak was traced to lettuce. County investigators identified two farms in northern California where the lettuce came from -- but records show the farms were never inspected!
We showed the documents to food safety analyst Jeff Nelken -- who found that unusual.
"If it were in my hands I would go all the way back to the farm.
The farms are outside L.A. County and would need to be inspected by the state -- but that was never done.
“Would you have liked to see them test the farms?”
“I would have liked to find out where the hepatitis A is coming from.”
In a statement, the California Department of Health said, “further trace back to the lettuce processor and lettuce farms was not warranted.”
So the outbreak still remains a mystery -- with people like Michael Bravo wondering about his future.
“This is something that you don't, you don't know if you're getting better or worse.”
More on this outbreak: Silver Grill Catering Hepatitis A Outbreak