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118 Hepatitis A Cases In 8 States Linked To Recalled Frozen Berries

1:21 PM, Jun 18, 2013   |    comments
Frozen berries (Photo: Elizabeth Weise via USA Today)
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A nationwide outbreak of hepatitis A linked to frozen berries has sickened 118 people in eight states, sending 47 to the hospital, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported Tuesday.

Although the berries were recalled June 3, people are still getting sick. A report in The Oregonian newspaper found that a restaurant in Ashland, Ore., was still serving smoothies made with the recalled berries last Wednesday.

The frozen berry mix, called "Townsend Farms Organic Antioxidant Blend" berry and pomegranate mix, was sold by Costco markets. So far everyone who got sick and reported eating the berries purchased the product from Costco, according to the CDC.

Read: Harris Teeter Product Recalled, Liked To Hepatitis A

Read: Hep. A In 5 States Linked To Berry Product Sold At Costco

The product was also sold at Harris Teeter stores on the East Coast, but no cases have been identified with the product bought there, the CDC said. The Harris Teeter product was labeled "Harris Teeter Organic Antioxidant Berry Blend, 10 oz. bag."

The producer of the berry mix, Townsend Farms of Fairview, Ore., voluntarily began a recall on June 3. The Food and Drug Administration has begun an inspection of the company's processing facilities.

The illnesses have been reported in eight states: Arizona, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah and Washington.

The strain of hepatitis A found in the berry mix is rare in the United States but known to circulate in North Africa and the Middle East. According to the label, the Townsend Farms Organic Antioxidant Blend mix contained fruit from the United States, Argentina, Chile and Turkey.

The first victims fell ill on April 29. The most recent was June 8, the CDC said.

Hepatitis A is a highly contagious liver infection caused by a virus. Some people have no symptoms, but many have fever, fatigue, nausea, vomiting, and abdominal and joint pain. In severe cases it can cause liver failure and require a transplant.

Costco has called all its customers who bought the berry mix between February and May, said Craig Wilson, the company's food safety director. The Issaquah, Wash., company is reimbursing the cost of hepatitis A vaccination for everyone who bought the frozen berry mix at Costco. All Costco pharmacies are making the vaccine available to affected customers, Wilson said.

There are three types of hepatitis, A, B and C. All three are caused by viruses that affect the liver.

Hepatitis A is transmitted primarily through fecal contamination, when someone consumes food or water contaminated with feces from an infected individual. Food prepared by someone infected with the virus who did not properly wash their hands after going to the bathroom is also a common cause of outbreaks.

Hepatitis A rates in the United States have decreased by 95% since 1995, when a vaccine first became available. Only two of the victims in the frozen berry outbreak are children, a 2-year-old and a 3-year-old, CDC spokeswoman Lola Russell said. Neither had been vaccinated.

The most common of the three forms is hepatitis C, which infects more than 3.2 million people in the United States. It is transmitted at birth (from an infected mother to her baby), injection drug use and infected blood transfusions. It can also be transmitted via sexual activity.

Hepatitis B is generally spread via sex with infected partners and drug use involving shared needles. It is relatively rare, as most children are now vaccinated against the virus. Hepatitis B rates have fallen 82% since 1990 because of routine vaccination, according to the CDC.

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