A multifocal outbreak of hepatitis A traced to commercially distributed lettuce

Am J Public Health. 1990 Sep;80(9):1075-9. doi: 10.2105/ajph.80.9.1075.


From February 1 through March 20, 1988, 202 cases of hepatitis A were reported in and around Jefferson County, Kentucky. The epidemic curve indicated a common-source exposure. However, there was no apparent single source of exposure from a restaurant, or community gathering; nor was there a geographic clustering by residence. Cases were mainly adults 20-59 years old (89 percent); 51 percent were female. A case-control study using neighborhood controls found that factors associated with hepatitis A were: having eaten downtown (odds ratio [OR] = 4.0) and having dined at any one of three restaurants (OR = 21.0). Case-control studies of patrons of two of these restaurants found that eating green salad was strongly associated with acquiring hepatitis A: OR = 11.6 and OR = 4.4. The three implicated restaurants accounted for 71 percent of the cases. All three restaurants were supplied by the same fresh produce distributor; however, investigation suggested that contamination most likely occurred prior to local distribution. This outbreak of hepatitis A is the first in the United States apparently associated with fresh produce contaminated before distribution to restaurants, and raises important public health issues regarding the regulation of fresh produce.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Case-Control Studies
  • Commerce
  • Disease Outbreaks*
  • Female
  • Food Contamination*
  • Food Handling
  • Hepatitis A / epidemiology*
  • Hepatitis A / transmission
  • Humans
  • Kentucky / epidemiology
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Restaurants
  • Vegetables*