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Hepatitis A Cases Linked to Onions

November 20, 2003|Karen Robinson-Jacobs | Times Staff Writer

The United States has curtailed imports of Mexican green onions after outbreaks of hepatitis A in the South were linked to green onions served in restaurants, a Food and Drug Administration official told Reuters on Wednesday.

In a separate outbreak, at least 530 people were sickened and three died of hepatitis A that has been linked to a Chi-Chi's Mexican restaurant in Beaver County, Pa., according to health officials.

That outbreak has prompted at least two lawsuits against Chi-Chi's Inc., which is owned by Irvine-based Prandium Inc. Chi-Chi's filed for Chaper 11 bankruptcy protection last month.

Health authorities have not officially linked the Chi-Chi's outbreak to the use of green onions but say there are similarities in blood samples taken from victims in Pennsylvania and from those affected in an outbreak in Tennessee, North Carolina and Georgia.

Hepatitis A is a liver disease that develops within six weeks of an exposure. It usually is mild and causes fatigue, abdominal pain, nausea, diarrhea and fever, although it can be especially severe in people with chronic liver disease.

Most of the Chi-Chi's diners probably were infected in late September to mid-October, officials said.

Despite Chi-Chi's bankruptcy filing, an attorney representing six of the Chi-Chi's hepatitis A victims believes his clients will be able to recover damages.

"At the very least there will be an insurance policy," said New York attorney Eric Chaffin. "Prandium has exposure, and it has insurance as well."

Prandium's attorney, William Lobel, declined to comment.

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