Health officials in Roanoke say they have confirmed at least 49 cases of the illness, with at least 31 people requiring hospitalization, The Roanoke Times reported. Other suspected cases remained under investigation, the report said.
"This heartbreaking loss of life illustrates how serious this outbreak is," Cynthia Morrow, health district director for the Roanoke City and Alleghany Health Districts (RCAHD), said in a news release, according to the newspaper. "Unfortunately, in this situation, we have seen may individuals experiencing sever disease, and in some cases, their symptoms have continued to progress over weeks."
"This heartbreaking loss of life illustrates how serious this outbreak is."
One person confirmed to have hepatitis A worked at three separate Roanoke locations of the Famous Anthony’s chain, according to the report. The employee has not been identified.
The illness is considered preventable via good personal hygiene practices such as thorough handwashing.
Those at risk
Those at highest risk include drug abusers, the homeless, sexually active gay men, those incarcerated or recently incarcerated and those with chronic liver disease, WSLS-TV of Roanoke reported. Symptoms include fever, fatigue, loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, dark urine and light-colored stools, the report said.
Famous Anthony’s released a statement Oct. 15 regarding the outbreak, according to Food Safety News.
"Famous Anthony’s has cooperated fully with the Roanoke and Alleghany Health Districts," the statement said in part. "Famous Anthony’s has provided a safe environment for customers and workers for 35 years, and it continues to work with health officials and comply with any recommendations given to it by the appropriate authorities to ensure the continued safe operation of all of its current locations.
"Famous Anthony’s has cooperated fully with the Roanoke and Alleghany Health Districts."
"As Famous Anthony’s continues its investigation, it wishes to express that it is mindful of the impact this unforeseen event has and continues to have on individuals and families in this community. Additionally, Famous Anthony’s offers its heartfelt concern and sympathy for all those affected."
Health officials have confirmed cooperation from the chain, the Times has reported.
Army veteran dies
The first known fatality was identified as Roanoke County resident James Hamlin, 75, who died Oct. 8 from hepatitis complications, the Times reported. Two more deaths were confirmed Friday but details were not disclosed because of patient privacy concerns, the report said.
Hamlin’s family said the U.S. Army veteran, who served as a Green Beret during the Vietnam War era, seemed strong and healthy until suddenly feeling nauseous and fatigued one day in August, the Times reported.
After his symptoms persisted, he was admitted to a hospital and died 10 days later, according to the report.
Hepatitis A is known to cause inflammation of the liver and there is typically an incubation period between exposure to the virus and the development of symptoms, officials said.
No new cases were reported during the past week, the health officials said.
Officials believe Aug. 10-27 was the most likely period for people to have become infected and that anyone infected would likely have already displayed symptoms by now.
Vaccines are available to prevent hepatitis A, health department officials said, advising the public to seek further information from their doctor or from their local health department.
At least one lawsuit has been filed against Famous Anthony’s in connection with the Virginia outbreak. A Franklin County woman in early October filed a lawsuit seeking $500,000 in compensatory damages, claiming she contracted the virus after dining at the chain, then getting sick and requiring hospitalization and losing time from work, The Times reported.