ANCHORAGE (AP) -- State health officials believe a person with hepatitis A inadvertently passed the virus to others at a company holiday party by handling crab legs in a buffet line.
Four Homer residents, one person from Anchor Point and another from Anchorage have tested positive for the potentially deadly liver disease.
The outbreak of hepatitis A surfaced after about 300 people gathered in Homer on Dec. 2 for an Icicle Seafoods party at Land's End Resort.
Hepatitis A is contracted through fecal material. Contamin-ation can happen if someone doesn't thoroughly wash his hands after using the bathroom and then makes contact with another person or food.
The state Section of Epidemiology and the state Department of Environmental Conservation began investigating last week. Nurses collected blood tests from about 50 people who attended the party.
All of the 15 blood tests taken from Land's End food handlers came back negative for the virus.
State health organizations suspected crab as the common link in the outbreak because all six infected people had eaten it. Icicle Seafoods provided the crab legs for the party and the staff at Land's End heated it for the buffet, said Jon Faulkner, president of Land's End Resort.
Neither the seafood processors nor the resort's food handlers are the likely cause of contamination, said epidemiologist Louisa Castrodale. Only a limited amount of crab appeared to be infected, not the entire lot, she said.
Because of the low number of positive cases, the epidemiologists' hypothesis is that a party guest who had the virus contaminated some of the crab legs, which were later eaten by a small group of people.
''That would explain why only a small number of people who ate the crab legs would have gotten sick,'' Castrodale said.
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