It’s been three days since a Starbucks customer in San Diego was hospitalized and 13 days since the first reported case was reported by officials. On Friday, a new case was reported in the same city.
The CDC is investigating multiple cases of Hepatitis A in San Diego County and one man is known to have contracted the disease in a single instance last week. In addition, CDC officials are also investigating a hepatitis A case reported by Arizona medical officials.
On Thursday, Starbucks issued an apology to customers and commended its team for “quick action” in dealing with the problem.
The virus is spread by food or water carrying Hepatitis A and can manifest symptoms such as fatigue, fever, nausea, abdominal pain, dark urine, clay-colored bowel movements and jaundice in the later stages of the disease.
The virus is easily managed with medication. To prevent another outbreak like the one which occurred two years ago in the region, health officials say hepatitis A vaccination is the best prevention for people who have already been infected with the virus. While it is possible for people to become infected with the virus just by working around infected people, health officials believe the common exposure rate is higher than for other more harmful illnesses.
While the infected Starbucks customers were already receiving vaccinations, there is some controversy surrounding the Starbucks vaccine, which comes in the form of an oral mist product.
“The vaccination contains live vaccine in the pill which induces a very mild illness,” said Gina Famiglietti, UCLA Center for Vaccine Policy Research. “But it does not prevent hepatitis A in those who are chronically ill.”
However, Famiglietti told The Food Spot that a vaccine from other companies that is administered directly into the bloodstream through a needle does not induce a severe illness. In either case, Famiglietti said the best solution is to ensure that communities are trained to properly administer the vaccine, ideally through training programs with people who are either chronically ill or who work around infected people.
When the virus was found to be in three Starbucks cafes in Orange County in 2015, representatives of the Starbucks public health division urged those who had visited the affected Starbucks store to get vaccinated, along with anyone who had been in contact with them.
“We offer both a daily and 15-day MMR (measles, mumps, rubella) booster of anyone who visits our stores,” Gina Griffin, vice president of corporate and public affairs for Starbucks said at the time. “We also emphasize the importance of getting vaccinated if they have been living with a chronic illness for at least six months.”
According to The Food Spot, that means Starbucks only requires people to get vaccinated if they have been sick with Hepatitis A for over six months.
Customers who are concerned about their vaccination history can call Starbucks’ Vaccine Hotline at (800) 818-6636 or their local health department.
Jennifer Stephens is a crime and public safety reporter for The Food Spot. Follow her on Twitter @jen_stephens and on Instagram @jen_stephens.