The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is warning consumers in four states to contact their doctors if they got sick after eating a strawberry smoothie from a Tropical Smoothie Cafe before August 8, 2016 in four states. Those states are Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland, and North Carolina. A hepatitis A outbreak is linked to the strawberries in those products.
That outbreak has sickened at least 70 people who live in seven states. The case count by state is: Maryland (6), New York (1), North Carolina (1), Oregon (1), Virginia (55), West Virginia (5), and Wisconsin (1). In interviews, almost all of those sickened said they ate smoothies containing strawberries at Tropical Smoothie Cafe locations in those four states.
Tropical Smoothie Cafe reported the Egyptian frozen strawberries from their restaurants in those states on August 8, 2016 and switched to another supplier. The chain has switched to another supplier for all of their restaurants nationwide out of an abundance of caution.
Thirty-two of the seventy people sickened have been hospitalized because their illness is so serious. This hospitalization rate of 45.7% is much higher than the typical 20% rate that occurs in most hepatitis A outbreaks. We don’t know why this is happening. Most complications from this viral illness occur in the elderly and in people who have chronic liver diseases. The age range for this outbreak is 15 to 68, which is not particularly high.
There is no ongoing risk of hepatitis A infections at Tropical Smoothie Cafes at this time, and the government does not know of any other restaurants that received the strawberries that are linked to this particular outbreak. The CDC will issue an announcement if they do discover other facilities that have sold the berries.
But the outbreak will most likely continue to grow for two reasons. First, the incubation period for hepatitis A is up to 50 days. Since the strawberries were removed on August 8, 2016, more cases could be diagnosed up to September 27, 2016. Second, this illness is very contagious, and people generally do not experience any symptoms for two week after they have been exposed to the virus. They will continue to work and have contact with others during this contagious period.
And the time period where vaccinations against the virus for those who may have been exposed has, unfortunately, passed. The hepatitis A and immune globulin vaccinations are only good if given within two weeks of exposure.
The symptoms of hepatitis A include jaundice (yellow eyes and skin), abdominal pain, fever, loss of appetite, weight loss, pale clay-colored stools, dark urine, and lethargy. But not everyone who is infected will show symptoms, and some people may only have mild, flu-like symptoms.
It is crucial that food handlers and restaurant employees stay home if they have this illness. The virus is spread easily through food and drink. Also wash your hands well with soap and water after using the bathroom and before preparing food or drink for others.
You may want to consider getting a vaccination against hepatitis A if you have chronic liver disease or are being treated with clotting-factor concentrates. Anyone who has been vaccinated against hepatitis A is immune to this virus. In addition, anyone who has had hepatitis A in the past is immune. Talk with your doctor about the best possible options for your particular situation.