Officials from the Virginia Department of Health have stated that a cluster of recent outbreak of hepatitis A in the state may actually have been caused by the imported strawberries that the business franchise, Tropical Smoothie Cafe stores, have been receiving and using from Egypt.
The health officials have indicated that the results they have given to the public were obtained after genetic testing was conducted. The results showed that the Hepatitis A outbreak in Virginia had definitively been caused by a strain of the illness which is associated with several previous outbreaks linked to frozen strawberries which had been imported from Egypt. This outbreak has left 10 individuals sick with two of the cases in eastern Virginia.
The smoothie chain in question, Tropical Smoothie Cafe, has recalled all of their strawberries which had been sourced from Egypt and are providing an alternative supplier. It is also believed that other restaurants and suppliers may have also received the disease-inducing frozen imported strawberries. Members of the public health industry, including the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, as well as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have begun working on tracking the distribution of the frozen berries.
According to the Food Poisoning Bulletin the information regarding exactly when the infected strawberry smoothies were sold by the Tropical Smoothie Cafe is not available to the public as yet. In fact a press release done simply gives a general warning about the frozen strawberries and their possibility of causing a Hepatitis A infection.
“Anyone who consumed a smoothie with frozen strawberries at a restaurant within the last 50 days is encouraged to watch for symptoms of hepatitis A. If illness occurs, seek medical care and take steps to protect others from the infection.”
One of the reasons the timeline is so vague is because a person infected with Hepatitis A can actually take weeks to show any symptom and the berries which may have affected them could have been sold in a smoothie or perhaps even in various dishes and forms at other restaurants months ago.
The effectiveness of a vaccine for the Hepatitis A virus is only guaranteed if administered within two weeks of exposure. This means that only persons who consumed a smoothie which contained frozen strawberries from any Tropical Smoothie Cafe in Virginia between August 6, and 8, 2016 could still get a vaccination shot. However, persons who have had hepatitis A in the past or who have previously received the vaccine for it are immune and are not at risk of acquiring the infection again.
NBCWashington has stated that according to the smoothie chain’s website, in Virginia alone there are 96 Tropical Smoothie Cafe locations. At this time there is no information regarding if any Maryland locations have been affected by the outbreak.
There have been reports of Hepatitis A in strawberry smoothies from Tropical Smoothie Cafe's in Virginia. pic.twitter.com/shWxGAzXCw— DC Maryland Virginia (@DMVFollowers) August 19, 2016
The Hepatitis A virus is very contagious and has the possibility of being contracted through contaminated food and drink as well as through person-to-person contact, and through contact with surfaces and objects that are contaminated. The symptoms can include abdominal pain, fatigue, fever, jaundice, loss of appetite, weight loss, nausea, vomiting, dark urine, and clay-colored stools. People tend to get sick two weeks after being infected, but the symptoms may not appear for about 50 days. Anyone who has developed any of the symptoms is being encouraged to visit their doctor.
Tropical Smoothie Cafe did release a statement regarding their role in the Hepatitis A outbreak in Virginia.
“Tropical Smoothie Cafe was notified by the Virginia Department of Health about several foodborne illnesses in the state linked to frozen strawberries sourced from Egypt. Our cafes and their food handling practices have not been implicated in any way – the health department believes this is a single product issue (strawberries) sourced from Egypt. Egyptian strawberries represent a fraction of our overall strawberries purchased, and were predominantly distributed to stores in the Virginia market. Today, our strawberries are primarily sourced from Mexico and California. However, in an abundance of caution, we voluntarily pulled all strawberries sourced from Egypt from every cafe in our system, not only the Virginia cafes. Our primary concern is for the safety and well-being of our guests and crew members and we will continue to cooperate with the health authorities.”
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