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Toll rises to 120 in Hepatitis A outbreak linked to frozen fruit mix

Teresa Tanoos's picture
Hepatitis A outbreak linked to frozen berry mix now sickens 120

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), along with the FDA and public health officials in multiple states, are investigating an outbreak of Hepatitis A that has now sickened a total of 120 people in the U.S. after they consumed a frozen berry mix sold at Costco.

Today, the agency announced preliminary results from the ongoing investigation.

“As of June 24, 2013, 120 people have been confirmed to have become ill from Hepatitis A after eating ‘Townsend Farms Organic Anti-oxidant Blend’ in 8 states,” the CDC reports. Those states include Arizona, California, Colorado, Hawaii, New Mexico, Nevada, Utah and Wisconsin.

The agency also provides the following advice to consumers on its website:

1. Do not eat recalled ‘Townsend Farms Organic Antioxidant Blend’ frozen berry and pomegranate mix and discard any remaining product from your freezers.
a. This product was sold at Costco stores in 3 lb. bags with the UPC 078414 404448.
b. This product was sold at Harris Teeter stores in 10 oz bags with the UPC 072036 70463 4.
c. Even if some of the product has been eaten without anyone in your home becoming ill, the rest of the product should be discarded.

2. Hepatitis A vaccination can prevent illness if given within two weeks of exposure to the contaminated product.
• If you consumed this product in the last two weeks and have never been vaccinated, contact your health care provider to find out if you should be vaccinated. If you don’t have a health care provider (usually your doctor) contact your health department. You can find your health department contact information at this website.
• If you have already received the hepatitis A vaccination in the past, you are unlikely to become ill with the disease

3. Contact your health care provider right away if you develop any of these symptoms:
• Yellow eyes or skin
• Abdominal pain
• Pale stools
• Dark urine

4. You can prevent cross-contamination in food preparation areas by thoroughly washing your hands with soap and water, and disinfect counters, cutting boards, and cooking utensils after use.

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5. Wash your hands thoroughly right after using the bathroom, changing diapers, and before preparing, serving, or eating food.

The frozen berry mix pinpointed as the outbreak source was sold at Costco stores in the West and at Harris Teeter stores in the East under the brand, “Organic Anti-Oxidant Berry Blend”, which is distributed by Townsend Farms of Oregon. So far, however, no illnesses have been connected to the product sold at Harris Teeter.

Costco distributed the product in 12 states, but as of today, no illnesses have been reported in 5 of them: Alaska, Idaho, Montana, Oregon and Washington.

Costco reported it sold approximately 330,000 bags of the recalled product between February 2013 and another recall date in late May. The store chain said it contacted approximately 240,000 customers via phone and letters to inform them of the recall.

Meanwhile, the hepatitis A outbreak linked to the berry product continues to spread, increasing the toll of those sickened in the U.S. to 120, according to the latest update from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Of these victims, 53 have been hospitalized as a result of their infections. The CDC last reported 50 hospitalizations and 113 cases. In other words, 3 of the 6 newly reported cases were hospitalizations.

The victims range in age from 2 to 84 years, and 61 percent of them are between 40 to 64 years of age. Of the total sickened, 58 percent are women. Currently, 5 of the victims are children under the age of 18, but none of them have been hospitalized or previously vaccinated.

The dates of onset for hepatitis A range from March 31 through June 24, 2013, and 45% of all those sickened have been hospitalized. No deaths have been reported.

Hepatitis A is a human disease and usually occurs when an infected food handler prepares food without appropriate hand hygiene. However, food contaminated with HAV, as is suspected in this outbreak, can cause outbreaks of disease among persons who eat or handle food, according to the CDC.

SOURCE: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), "Multistate outbreak of Hepatitis A infections associated with “Townsend Farms Organic Antioxidant Blend” frozen berry and pomegranate mix" (June 25, 2013).