In mid-October of 1999, an unusually high number of hepatitis A cases were reported among individuals residing in Northeast Seattle and Snohomish County, Washington. The Snohomish Health District (SHD) noted that a number of the hepatitis A cases were reported among individuals who resided in Snohomish County, but who worked in the Northeast Seattle area. Because the infected individuals had no other identified risk factor for hepatitis A, health department officials quickly suspected that the source of the apparent hepatitis A outbreak was food purchased in Northeast Seattle.
Public health officials conducted an epidemiologic survey that included questions about whether case-patients had eaten at fast food restaurants and grocery stores prevalent in the North Seattle area. By November 5, 1999, 18 of 21 persons confirmed positive with hepatitis A in King County after October 15, 1999 were found to have eaten at one of two Subway Sandwich outlets during the two to six week period prior to the onset of symptoms. During this same time period, the SHD determined that at least six persons with hepatitis A had eaten at one of the two implicated Subway outlets.
An environmental investigation resulted in the finding that neither of the implicated Subway outlets had a written hand washing policy, and that employees were not required to document their knowledge of proper hand washing technique.
Having confirmed that the Subway outlets were, in fact, the outbreak’s common source, health department officials issued a press release that stated, in part, that:
An ongoing investigation by Public Health suggests that many [hepatitis A] infections are associated with consuming food from one of two Subway Salads and Sandwiches outlets during the month of September. . . .“If you have eaten at these restaurants during September and are ill with symptoms of hepatitis, you should seek prompt medical evaluation,” said Dr. Alonzo Plough, Director of Public Health – Seattle & King County.
It is estimated that over 40 persons became ill as a result of eating contaminated food sold at the two Subway outlets implicated in the September 1999 hepatitis A outbreak.
Marler Clark represented 31 clients in claims against Subway. The claims were resolved for a reported $1.6 million in late 2000 and early 2001.