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article imageVirginia Hepatitis A cases growing and so are the lawsuits

By Karen Graham     Aug 26, 2016 in Food
Richmond - The Hepatitis A outbreak in Virginia linked to frozen strawberry smoothies served at Tropical Smoothie Cafes is growing daily, with 28 people now confirmed to be sick as of Thursday evening.
Food Safety News, published by attorney Bill Marler with Marler Clark LLP, reports on Friday that the Virginia Department of Health has not been forthcoming in providing much in the way of details on the outbreak.
What we do know is this: on August 19, Virginia health officials issued a public health alert saying that "evidence suggests that frozen strawberries imported from Egypt may be associated with the Hepatitis A outbreak."
According to the alert, the strain of Hepatitis A matched a strain of the virus isolated during previous outbreaks in frozen strawberries imported from Egypt.
The alert went on to say strawberries sourced from Egypt and used in smoothies at Tropical Smoothie Cafes across Virginia had been pulled from the facilities beginning on August 6th. The health department has not posted any additional information since the original alert was sent out over the Internet.
The problem with the date of notification
Food Safety News contacted Maribeth Brewster, the health department’s manager of risk communication, who sent an email response that said, "We do not discuss details of individual cases." She did not provide the date the department received the test results that showed the Hepatitis A victims had the same strain of virus isolated in strawberries from Egypt.
The lag time between when the health department notified Tropical Smoothie Cafe, on August 6, and the date the public was made aware of the outbreak and the alleged link to Egyptian strawberries on August 19 is important, especially for those who consumed smoothies between Aug. 5 and Aug. 8.
The Hepatitis A virus (HAV) can produce either asymptomatic or symptomatic infection after an incubation period of between 15 to 50 days. The health department alert recommended that anyone who consumed strawberry smoothies at Tropical Smoothie Cafe locations between Aug. 5 through Aug. 8, check with their doctors and make sure they are vaccinated.
The timing of the public notification in this outbreak is crucial because of the limited window of time to get a post-exposure vaccination. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Virginia health department (VDH), post-exposure vaccine or immune globulin (IG) injections must be administered within 14 days of exposure or they are not effective.
Lawsuits galore are in the works
The Richmond Times-Dispatch reported on Friday that many lawsuits are in the process of being filed, not only from victims who contracted HAV but at least a dozen or more who were vaccinated to prevent getting sick, and hope they won't get HAV.
Attorney William D. Marler, speaking with the Richmond Times-Dispatch said of the lawsuits Thursday. “I think this thing can grow. In fact, I just got an email from someone (in Virginia) who said I’m lying in the hospital bed with hepatitis A.”
Marler added he had been contacted by five people who are HAV positive and a "dozen or so" who got vaccinated. “Who knows how big it’s going to get because you don’t really know how long the product has been in circulation.” The lawsuits contend Tropical Smoothie Cafe breached the warranty of the safety of its products and is strictly liable.
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