KISSIMMEE, Fla. — The latest numbers show hepatitis A cases in Florida are slowly starting to decrease, but there is still a human toll in this public health crisis.
A man who claims he contracted the disease while dining with his family at a local restaurant is sharing his near-death story with Channel 9 investigative reporter Karla Ray.
He wants to see the restaurant industry do more to prevent the spread of this illness.
An October night celebrating his son’s 21st birthday led to an early-morning meal that would change William Reyes’ life.
“We left the club, and we said, ‘Let’s go to Denny’s,’” Reyes said. “Everybody ordered their food. I was the last one to get my food.”
Reyes ordered breakfast and coffee at the Denny’s at 2051 East Irlo Bronson Memorial Highway in Kissimmee. Now, a new lawsuit claims that within days, he was feeling sick.
“I've just been throwing up everything, even juice, kept throwing everything up,” Reyes said.
For more than a week, he says, he dealt with flu-like symptoms at home, before finally agreeing to go to a hospital. That’s where he learned what was actually wrong.
“They checked me and said I have hepatitis A, and then they took some X-rays and came back and said I had liver failure,” Reyes said.
Hepatitis A is a liver disease that’s often spread by people who don’t wash their hands after using the restroom, making food and beverages unsafe. Reyes quickly dropped almost 50 pounds and his first stint in the hospital was nine days long.
“I'm not going to lie to you, as soon as they said, ‘You have liver failure,’ that's when I broke down,” Reyes said. “I started crying. I was thinking of my kids, my grandkids. I've got two grandkids on the way. All that came to my mind.”
Then, Florida Department of Health officials announced that two employees at the very same Denny’s had hepatitis A.
“I think generally it's terrifying. Anytime that we go out to eat, we don’t expect something like this to occur,” attorney Tyler Kobylinski said.
Numbers show Reyes is part of a growing Florida population diagnosed with the disease in the last year. 2019 broke records, with nearly 3,400 people being diagnosed statewide. Still, despite a public health emergency being declared in August 2019, and other jurisdictions around the country recommending all restaurant workers be vaccinated against the disease, Florida has not required testing or vaccines.
“I think we could do more in our state to make sure this isn't happening in our restaurants,” Kobylinski said.
According to the World Health Organization, almost everyone recovers fully from hepatitis A with a lifelong immunity.
A Denny’s representative sent Channel 9 the following statement:
“Denny’s is aware of the ongoing legal action in Osceola County and is reviewing the case. While we cannot comment on the specifics of ongoing legal matters, we will be working with the involved parties to resolve this case as quickly and effectively as possible. Denny’s is a family restaurant that strives to ensure the safety and enjoyment of its guests.”
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