A Hauula resident who believes he contracted hepatitis A aboard a Hawaiian Airlines flight filed a lawsuit in Circuit Court today claiming he was exposed to the disease by a flight attendant.
It appears to be the first case made public in the current outbreak that involves transmission from one infected person to another in a commercial setting, rather than from eating contaminated food or close contact within a household.
Most of the 276 hepatitis A cases so far stem from eating tainted scallops served raw at Genki Sushi, which were identified by health authorities last month as the source of virus and pulled from the market.
There have been a handful of secondary cases passed within households, according to the state Health Department. But no person-to-person transmission in a work setting had yet come to light.
The suit was filed by John Driscoll, an artist and plasterer who lives in Hauula, against Genki Sushi USA , scallops distributor Koha Foods and importer Sea Port Products Corp.
Driscoll believes he got the virus aboard Hawaiian Airlines Flight 65 from Oakland, Calif., to Kona, Hawaii, on July 26. A flight attendant on the plane who had eaten scallop sushi at Genki had hepatitis A but didn’t know it at the time.
Hepatitis A symptoms appear from two weeks to as long as 50 days after exposure, and people are infectious even before they realize they are sick. The virus spreads through contaminated food or water, or close physical contact.
Driscoll had not eaten at Genki, and none of his close personal contacts had hepatitis A, according to his attorney, Michael F. O’Connor. “Driscoll first began to experience symptoms of his Hepatitis A infection on or about the morning of Aug. 8, 2016, while at work,” the suit said. “He left work early at around 11 a.m. to return home and rest. While on his way home, Driscoll received a phone call from the State of Hawaii Department of Health to inform him that he had been exposed to HAV [hepatitis A virus] while on his flight on July 26.”
“The next day, Driscoll sought medical treatment and submitted a blood sample for laboratory testing,” the suit said. “Driscoll’s blood sample ultimately tested positive for the outbreak strain of HAV.”
Driscoll was working a special job at the International Marketplace in Waikiki, which was supposed to last for six weeks, but because of his illness, he only put in three or four days on the job. He is still recovering, according to the lawsuit, which seeks damages for pain and suffering, lost wages and medical expenses.
O’Connor, his attorney, said they are not suing Hawaiian Airlines because it did not serve the scallops so product liability law is not applicable.
The Health Department publicizes cases of food workers who have tested positive for the virus, so that patrons can take precautions, including getting vaccinations.
So far 17 food handlers have come down with the disease: workers at 13 different restaurants, two Hawaiian Airlines flight attendants and 2 cafeteria employees at different schools. None were Genki Sushi employees.
Seattle attorney Bill Marler, who is also handling Driscoll’s case, said it highlights the need to vaccinate food-service workers.
“Hepatitis A is the only food-borne illness that you can stop secondary transfer by vaccinating the people that likely would transfer it, which are close family members or people who work in food service,” he said.