A continuing outbreak of foodborne hepatitis A linked to frozen strawberries has sickened 89 people in seven states, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Thursday. No deaths have been reported, though 39 patients have been hospitalized.
Health officials confirmed 70 people are ill in Virginia, where the outbreak first appeared, along with additional infections in Maryland (10), New York (1), North Carolina (1), Oregon (1), West Virginia (5) and Wisconsin (1).
Hepatitis A is a viral liver infection that is highly contagious but does not result in chronic infection. Symptoms include yellow eyes or skin, abdominal pain, or pale stools. Exposure to the virus can occur by consuming tainted food or through direct contact with another person who has the infection.
Nearly all of the ill people reported drinking smoothies containing strawberries at Tropical Smoothie Cafés in Maryland, North Carolina, Virginia and West Virginia prior to August 8. Some of the victims traveled to these locations on vacation. The strawberries were imported from Egypt.
Generally, Hepatitis A infections have an incubation period of 15 to 50 days before symptoms appear. Because of this long lag time, new cases have developed many days after August 8, when all contaminated food products were removed from the restaurants and more cases are to be expected.
Anyone who consumed a smoothie after August 8 is not thought to be at risk for hepatitis A and available data does not indicate a continued risk at these restaurants, the CDC stated. Tropical Smoothie Café reported switching to another supplier for all restaurants nationwide.
According to the CDC, there are between 1,700 and 2,800 cases of the highly contagious virus each year in the United States. The majority of children who become infected with hepatitis A show no signs of illness, though more than 80% of adults will experience symptoms. Once recovered from their illnesses, patients are protected against reinfection for life.
Along with several states and the Food and Drug Administration, the CDC continues to investigate cases of hepatitis A related to this outbreak.
A hepatitis A vaccine became available in 1995, resulting in a 95% decline in infections, according to the CDC. Taken shortly after exposure, the vaccine or medicine can be helpful to anyone fearing they’ve come in contact with the virus.