San Francisco Shigella Outbreak Sickens Nearly 200, Results in Lawsuits Against Restaurant

A Mexican seafood restaurant in the San Francisco area has been temporarily shut down as government health officials investigate a Shigella outbreak that has sickened nearly 200 people over the past two weeks, leaving many of those infected hospitalized or in intensive care units (ICU) for medical treatment. 

Warnings have been issued to San Francisco residents about the risk of highly contagious Shigella bacteria, which causes severe and painful gastrointestinal problems.

Santa Clara County Department of Environmental Health has identified the Mariscos San Juan No. 3 restaurant in San Jose as the source of the Shigella outbreak, after at least 72 of the 182 sickened people reported eating at the restaurant within the last week.

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County representatives stated the outbreak has spread quickly, impacting people throughout the San Francisco area across six counties since October 16, when the first illness was reported.

Shigella infection is an intestinal disease that causes watery or bloody diarrhea, abdominal pain, fever, and the painful feeling of having to pass stools even when the bowels are empty. The Shigella germs are present in the bowels of individuals while they are experiencing diarrhea and the bacteria can stay present for up to a week or two after the bowel irritation has gone away.

The germ is very contagious and can be spread easily by exposure to microscopic fecal matter. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), transmission can be caused by individuals putting something in their mouths such as food or that has come in contact with the stool of an infected person.

Contaminated surfaces can cause the germ to spread through transfer theory which could contaminate silverware, drinking glasses, or cause the germ to be present on the hands of those who encountered the contaminated surface areas.

San Francisco Health Departments stated that the outbreak has reached five nearby counties including Santa Clara, Santa Cruz, Alameda, Marin, and Merced County. While laboratory testing has confirmed 72 of the 182 infected person with the virus, 144 reported infections came from Santa Clara County, and the other 38 were from the surrounding areas.

Santa Clara County officials reported the restaurant owner shut down operation on October 18, to cooperate with the department’s investigating inspectors after the majority of those sickened reported eating at the establishment. However, the owner continues to run and operate two other branches of the restaurant nearby.

Two individuals who became sick from the outbreak filed Shigella lawsuits last week, alleging negligence against the owner. The first lawsuit was filed on Wednesday by Greg Meissner, who is the dean at a local high school and a repetitive customer at Mariscos restaurant. Meissner told ABC news that he ate carry-out from Mariscos on Friday October 16, and by Saturday he was in the hospital’s emergency room for a seven hour stay battling Shigella symptoms and a 105 degrees fever. Meissner said he experienced non-stop nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and cramping while being treated and is suing the restaurant seeking damages for his pain and suffering.

The CDC states that nearly 500,000 individuals are sickened by one of the four species of Shigella bacteria annually and many individuals are hospitalized due to the severity of the symptoms. The infection can only be diagnosed by laboratory tests and is then treated with prescribed antibiotics. The CDC recommends as a preventative measure that anyone with diarrhea always wash their hands thoroughly and not to handle food, utensils, or other commonly handled items within a household.


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