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article imageVirginia Hepatitis A outbreak spreads to five states — 51 sick

By Karen Graham     Aug 31, 2016 in Food
Richmond - The Hepatitis A outbreak associated with strawberry smoothies that started in Virginia earlier this month has now spread to five states, sickening 51 people.
On Tuesday, a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) spokesperson told Food Safety News the majority of the Hepatitis A (HAV) victims were in Virginia, with 44 confirmed cases. Additionally, there are four confirmed victims in Maryland and one each in North Carolina, Oregon and Wisconsin.
“CDC, FDA, and several states are currently investigating an outbreak of foodborne Hepatitis A linked to frozen strawberries in smoothies served in restaurants,” the CDC spokeswoman said.
The CDC spokesperson also said that while Tropical Smoothie Cafe has switched to another strawberry supplier, we may still see more cases of HAV because of the virus's long incubation period, adding, "At this time, we do not have information to suggest that there is an ongoing risk of hepatitis A virus infection at Tropical Smoothie Cafés.”
Hepatitis A's long incubation period ranges from 15 to 30 days, making it extremely difficult to investigate, according to state and federal health officials. The Virginia Department of Health (VDH) reports onset dates for this outbreak range from early May through the end of August, in an update dated Aug. 26.
Date of notification is still an issue
As reported in Digital Journal on August 26, there are numerous lawsuits stemming from this outbreak, including people who contracted the virus and people who were vaccinated to prevent getting sick, and hope they won't get HAV.
Virginia health officials didn't alert the public to the HAV until August 19, even though Tropical Smoothie Cafes were notified of the Hepatitis A link to strawberries sourced from Egypt on August 6. “I think it’s important for the Virginia Department of Health and Tropical Smoothie Café to say why they didn’t alert the public sooner,” said Bill Marler, a Seattle food safety attorney who is representing outbreak victims.
In an update posted by the VDH on Tuesday, Aug. 30, it was reported that at least 50 percent of the 44 Virginia cases had to be hospitalized. The 44 ill residents range in age from 15-68.
In related news, the Hepatitis A outbreak in Hawaii has now sickened 228 people, up 22 more victims from the previous week. Frozen scallops sourced from the Philippines proved to be the culprits in the outbreak, according to Hawaii News Now.
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