State and federal health officials said Saturday that Pennsylvania's hepatitis A outbreak is winding down, even as the number of those infected climbed to more than 600. The investigation shifted to how green onions linked to the outbreak became contaminated.
Republican Sen. Arlen Specter met Saturday with Dr. Julie Gerberding, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and state health officials at a community college near the Beaver County Chi-Chi's restaurant where the outbreak was first confirmed Nov. 3.
"We do feel like this particular outbreak has been successfully ended," Gerberding said, although the number of cases probably will rise in the next few days as lab test results come back.
With 605 infections and three deaths confirmed, health officials have found no secondary cases -- meaning all those infected were sickened at the restaurant by green onions, not through contact with infected people.
Hepatitis A is a virus that attacks the liver and could cause fever, nausea, diarrhea, jaundice, fatigue, abdominal pain and loss of appetite. Hepatitis A usually clears up on its own in about two months.
The Food and Drug Administration already has identified eight brands of Mexican-grown green onions believed to have caused the Pennsylvania outbreak. Green onions also are suspected of causing outbreaks in Georgia and Tennessee that have sickened more than 330 people, and the strains of hepatitis A found in those states and Pennsylvania are very similar.
Chi-Chi's chief operating officer Bill Zavertnik said in a statement in Pittsburgh on Saturday that the chain had done everything possible to prevent the outbreak.
The FDA has ordered green onions traced to the outbreaks in Pennsylvania, Georgia and Tennessee stopped at the Mexican border.
Chi-Chi's has also removed green onions from its 99 other restaurants in 17 states, from Minnesota to the mid-Atlantic.