Friday, February 13, 2004
Hepatitis B Outbreak Sweeps Oakland
Allegheny County health officials in conjunction with the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) have confirmed that at least 35 people have contracted hepatitis B in South Oakland during an outbreak that began to unfold during the spring semester.
Residents of the area began experiencing symptoms like nausea and fatigue that were initially thought to be the flu. After the symptoms did not abate, two Oakland residents were admitted to UPMC Presbyterian Hospital for testing. Tests confirmed the presence of hepatitis B antibodies.
“It’s sometimes difficult to diagnose hepatitis B in a large student population,” explained University of Pittsburgh Chair of Immunology, Dr. Olivera J. Finn. “Because the symptoms include fatigue and jaundice, many students think that they’ve either been drinking too much or have mono[nucleosis].”
“My fucking eyes were, like, yellow,” said Pitt sophomore Kurt Klein, one of the first students to be diagnosed. “I mean, I can throw ‘em back with the best of them and my pledge master thought maybe I was extremely jaundiced. He’s pre-med.”
Klein, however, was not the only student admitted to Presbyterian in early January. Up to a dozen students were suspected of infection and were tested. Three weeks after Klein’s initial visit to Presbyterian, 30 more students were diagnosed with hepatitis B.
Senior engineering major Samantha Wallace was admitted to UPMC Presbyterian the same January afternoon as Klein. Says Wallace, “It was like the second week of classes and we went out to party at Cumpies for the [Thursday] quarter-draft special. The next morning, I was totally throwing up and completely dehydrated. I felt like complete shit – not that I’m new to hangovers.” However, after her hangover-like symptoms did not disappear within 36 hours, Wallace’s worried roommates took her to Presbyterian.
“Fucking hepatitis?” complained Wallace. “My brother had the A strain in the fall, and I was like, ‘that fucker gave me hepatitis at Christmas.’ Then the doctors were like, ‘No, it’s the B strain.’ How the fuck do you get the ‘B strain?’ Did my brother’s hepatitis mutate or something?”
Hepatitis B, however, is spread primarily by sexual contact and the sharing of bodily fluids, such as blood, urine, and semen.
After over a month of interviews and extensive blood testing throughout the Oakland and student population, investigators with the CDC yesterday confirmed that the terrible outbreak has been traced to the sexual actions of Jamie Farrell of 3603 Dawson Street.
Farrell admits to having drunken sex with at least two South Oakland females after a night of heavy drinking on New Year’s Eve. He also admitted to having intercourse with a Carlow College freshman who he described as “skanky.”
“Dude, it’s totally not my fault that I couldn’t get that fucking condom on,” Farrell said. “I just wanted to make sure I got some before that girl changed her mind. It was pretty sloppy, though and I didn’t feel satisfied.”
After leaving the Semple Street party, Farrell reportedly called Wallace, an ex-girlfriend, for what they both describe as a “New Year’s Booty Call.”
CDC lead investigator Dr. Martin Shaw speculated that once the disease passed from Farrell to his next likely victim, Wallace, it was free to spread throughout the Oakland community.
“After taking Ms. Wallace’s complete sexual history, we noted many holes where she seemed to have blacked out after a night of drinking. We think it fully possible that where Wallace believes she’s had only 10-15 sexual partners, the numbers could actually be well into the 40s. For all intents and purposes, she is ground zero until we can find this ‘skanky Carlow chick.’”
Health officials had initially focused their investigation on a ring of heroin users on South Bouquet Street. Officials were forced to dismiss them as a source after physical examinations and interviews proved otherwise.
Current steps being taken by the CDC to halt the spread of hepatitis B include the closure of all Mexican-themed restaurants in the Oakland area, a bar curfew of midnight, and free condoms wherever alcohol is sold. Dr. Shaw recommends that if you fear you may have been infected, immediately seek medical attention.
(Click below to see how one case spread to dozens.)
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