According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the source of an ongoing Hepatitis A outbreak across the U.S. has been identified as frozen strawberries imported from Egypt for a franchised restaurant called Tropical Smoothie Cafe. The cases were initially localized to Virginia before reports from 6 additional states became known. As of last update, 70 people are confirmed infected in this hepatitis A outbreak. Where family or patient representatives have released public information, 32 people are said to be hospitalized. All of whom reported drinking a smoothie from Tropical Smoothie Cafe that contained strawberries.
The chain, offering salads, sandwiches and wraps in addition to smoothies, said it stopped using Egyptian frozen strawberries first in its Virginia locations then neighboring states. As the CDC tracked the impact of this outbreak and individuals in farther states were identified, Tropical Smoothie Cafe said it removed Egyptian frozen strawberries from all its cafes nationwide. Other states with confirmed cases include Wisconsin, North Carolina, Maryland, New York, West Virginia, and Oregon. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) joined the CDC and state and local officials in investigating the hepatitis A outbreak.
CDC officials expect more cases to appear, as the incubation period for Hepatitis A is 15-50 days and the outbreak was first identified Aug. 12. A preliminary investigation determined the first infections took place as early as May. Public health officials in Virginia referred the matter to the federal government after noticing multiple people had been sickened by the same strain of hepatitis A.
What is Hepatitis A?
Hepatitis A is a viral infection (short-named HAV) causing inflammation of the liver. The primary form of transmission comes when fecal matter from an infected person comes is ingested by another person. This contact can be person-to-person or consumption of contaminated food or water. Symptoms can include fever, fatigue, loss of appetite, vomiting and abdominal pain. Over 80% of adults with Hepatitis A are symptomatic, while children with the disease do not usually have symptoms and may in fact have an unrecognized infection.
Hepatitis A Prevention
If you are infected with Hepatitis A, your body produces certain antibodies in response. Those antibodies protect you from being reinfected with Hepatitis A in the future. The best way to prevent Hepatitis A is by getting vaccinated.
Hepatitis A Treatment
Patients infected during the Hepatitis A outbreak receive either a vaccine or immune globulin (IG) treatment.
IG (also called immunoglobulin or gamma globulin) is created by taking the blood from someone who has already been cured of your disease. In this case, it would come from a patient that had Hepatitis A. First, their blood is processed, because only the plasma in it is used. Their plasma contains the antibodies we mentioned above. Before IG is administered, it is purified to ensure it cannot infect the recipient with any diseases.
Treatment by vaccine is relatively new. It has only been in regular use for the last 9 years. Previously, the only Hepatitis A treatment was an injection of immune globulin. Now, otherwise healthy people aged 1-40 years can receive the single-antigen Hepatitis A vaccine, which is preferred because it provides long-term protection and it’s much easier to administer. There is also a significant cost difference. For those over age 41, the scientific data on benefits from vaccination is less definitive and Hepatitis A manifests more seriously in older aged people, so recommendations are only for immune globulin treatment.