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Hepatitis A linked to frozen berries sickens 87, four in Utah
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says an outbreak of hepatitis A linked to a frozen berry mix sold at Costco has grown to 87 people with illnesses in eight states, including Utah.

The CDC said Tuesday that illnesses also have been reported in Arizona, California Colorado, Hawaii, Nevada, New Mexico and Washington.

Townsend Farms of Fairview, Ore., last week recalled its frozen Organic Antioxidant Blend, packaged under the Townsend Farms label at Costco and under the Harris Teeter brand at those stores. So far the illnesses have only been linked to the berries sold at Costco, which has removed the berries from shelves.

The number of hepatitis cases in Utah remains at four, with two in Davis County and one each in Kane and Utah counties. Those affected all have recovered, said Valoree Vernon, epidemiologist for the Utah Department of Health.

Craig Wilson, director of food safety at Costco, said the store is providing vaccinations for people who ate the berries within the past two weeks and is reimbursing others who have gotten the vaccine outside the store. The chain has contacted about 240,000 people who purchased the berries at one of their stores, Wilson said. The company knows who bought the berries because purchases are linked to a membership card that customers present when they check out.

The Food and Drug Administration is investigating the cause of the outbreak. The CDC said the strain of hepatitis is rarely seen in North or South America but is found in the North Africa and Middle East regions. Townsend Farms has said the frozen organic blend bag includes pomegranate seeds from Turkey.

Hepatitis A is a contagious liver disease that can last from a few weeks to a several months. People often contract it when an infected food handler prepares food without appropriate hand hygiene. The CDC said that food already contaminated with the virus can also cause outbreaks, as is suspected in this case.

Illnesses occur within 15 to 50 days of exposure to the hepatitis A virus, CDC said. Symptoms include fatigue, abdominal pain, jaundice, abnormal liver tests, dark urine and pale stool.

Vaccination can prevent illness if given within two weeks of exposure, and those who have already been vaccinated are unlikely to become ill.

The Salt Lake Tribune contributed to this story.

Health • Number of cases unchanged in Utah as Costco offers vaccinations.
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