The hepatitis A outbreak linked to Tropical Smoothie Cafes has grown to include 105 sick in Virginia alone. The CDC has not updated their investigation into this outbreak since September 16, 2016. The CDC’s numbers for those sickened in other states are: Arkansas (1), Maryland (12), New York (3), North Carolina (1), Oregon (1), West Virginia (6), and Wisconsin (1). That means there are at least 130 people sick with hepatitis A infections in this particular outbreak.
In Virginia, the case count by region is: 60 Northern, 15 Northwest, 17 Eastern, 13 Central, 0 Southwest. About 35% of those sickened have been hospitalized because their illnesses are so serious. The patient age range is 14 to 70. Illness onset dates are from early May through September 2016.
This outbreak is slowing down. Public health officials traced the hepatitis A virus back to frozen strawberries that were imported from Egypt. Tropical Smoothie Cafes removed that product from their facilities on August 9, 2016. Since it can take up to 50 days for the symptoms of a hepatitis A infection to appear, this outbreak is almost at the end limit for primary infections. The last day that symptoms might appear for those sickened in the original outbreak is October 5, 2016.
Unfortunately, hepatitis A is very contagious and is easily spread person-to-person or through contamianted food and drink. And since people are contagious up to two weeks before symptoms even appear, they can unknowingly spread the virus to others. More ill persons may be identified before this outbreak is over.
The symptoms of hepatitis A include jaundice, lack of appetite, weight loss, fever, nausea, abdominal cramps, vomiting, and lethargy. These symptoms can appear 15 to 50 days after exposure to the virus. Most people recover on their own, but can be sick for weeks or months.
The best way to prevent the spread of this illness is to follow good hygiene practices. Always wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water after using the bathroom, changing diapers, or taking care of a sick person. Wash your hands well with soap and water before preparing food for others. And stay home from work or school if you are sick.