Sacramento County health officials investigate Hepatitis A outbreak

06/19/2013 12:00 AM

06/19/2013 8:11 AM

Sacramento County health authorities are investigating an outbreak of hepatitis A that may be associated with a frozen berry blend sold at Costco.

A total of 106 cases have been reported in eight states, including California. Of those reported cases, two have been identified in Sacramento County.

County authorities are recommending that if Costco customers have Townsend Farms Organic Antioxidant Blend frozen berries in their freezers, they should not eat the product. It should be discarded or returned to Costco.

A health alert from the county division of Public Health and Environmental Health also states that some Costco stores in Sacramento County may have used the berry blend to make shakes or smoothies for customer sampling, or served the product as a dessert or a garnish. Those customers may not be aware that they have ingested the specific product.

On June 3, Townsend Farms voluntarily recalled certain lots of the frozen blend.

The company's website said it issued the recall "out of an abundance of caution, because (the blend) has the potential to be contaminated with hepatitis A virus."

The blend contained pomegranate seeds from Turkey that may be related to the outbreak. Preliminary lab tests by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggest the outbreak strain of hepatitis is one that is rarely seen in the Americas, but circulates in the Middle East and North Africa.

The CDC said that in rare cases, particularly in patients with pre-existing severe illness or compromised immune systems, hepatitis A infection can lead to liver failure and death.

Costco has contacted customers who purchased bags of the berries.

The health alert signed by Dr. Olivia Kasirye, Sacramento County health officer, said people who have eaten the berries during the past two weeks, and who have not previously been vaccinated against hepatitis A, should contact a health care provider to find out if they should be vaccinated.

It takes an average of 28 days to become ill with hepatitis A after eating contaminated food.

Symptoms of hepatitis A infection include yellowing of the eyes or skin, abdominal pain, light-colored stools or dark urine. Hepatitis A vaccine can prevent illness if given within 14 days of exposure.

People should contact the Sacramento County Division of Public Health Immunization Assistance Program at (916) 875-7468 to arrange to get vaccine if they do not have a doctor.

If people have received the hepatitis A vaccine in the past, illness is not likely.

Call The Bee's Bill Lindelof, (916) 321-1079. Follow him on Twitter @Lindelofnews.

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