The hepatitis A outbreak associated with Tropical Smoothie Cafe products in Virginia has now sickened at least 17 people, according to the Virginia Department of Health. The outbreak has been linked to strawberries imported from Egypt that were used in smoothies.
Testing on the virus in ill persons has revealed it matches a hepatitis A strain that was found in Egyptian strawberries that caused outbreaks in the past. Tropical Smoothie Cafe is a chain restaurant with locations in Virginia in the cities of Oakton, Leesburg, Fredericksburg, Falls Church, Arlington, Alexandria, and others. There are five cases of the illness in the Eastern Region, four in the Northern Region, four in the Northwestern Region and four in the Central Region.
The chain has found another source of strawberries and has removed the Egyptian strawberries from their supply chain. The berries may have been sold to other restaurants. The FDA and other agencies are conducting traceback investigations to learn where the berries may have been distributed.
Officials are telling anyone who consumed strawberries from Tropical Smooth Cafes in the last 50 days, or from any restaurant, for that matter, to monitor themselves for the symptoms of the illness. It can take two weeks or up to 50 days for symptoms to appear after you have been exposed to the virus. Those symptoms include dark urine, clay-colored stools, jaundice, fatigue, joint pain, weight loss, loss of appetite, abdominal cramps, nausea, and vomiting.
If you ate anything made with strawberries at a Tropical Smoothie Cafe in Virginia in the last two weeks, you should contact your doctor about getting a hepatitis A or immune globulin vaccination. Those shots are only good if given within two weeks of exposure.
Most people recover fully from a hepatitis A infection, although some become seriously ill. People can be sick with this illness for months. Those most likely to suffer complications from this illness include older adults and people who already have liver disease. The most common complication is liver failure. There are no specific treatments for this illness. Bed rest is the best way to recover.
To prevent the spread of this disease, stay home if you are sick. Wash your hands well with soap and water before handling food or preparing food for anyone else. Wash your hands after using the bathroom, after changing diapers, or caring for someone who is sick.
Anyone who works with the public, especially in the food service industry, daycare settings, or healthcare settings, should stay home if they are sick. Think about getting a hepatitis A vaccination if you do work in these areas. The virus is very contagious and is easily spread through person-to-person contact, through contaminated food and drink, and through contact with surfaces.
If you do get sick, see your doctor. While hepatitis A is diagnosed through observation of symptoms, a blood test is the only way to confirm the diagnosis. Anyone who has been vaccinated against the disease or who has had hepatitis A in the past is most likely immune.