RICHMOND, Va. -- The Virginia Department of Health confirmed Friday that 10 people have been infected with hepatitis A after eating at Tropical Smoothie Cafes across the Commonwealth.
The health department warned people who had eaten at the cafes after frozen strawberries imported from Egypt likely contained the virus.
Officials said customers who consumed a smoothie made with the possibly tainted berries between Aug. 5 through Aug. 8 should contact the health department because they may still benefit from the vaccine.
"Anyone who consumed a smoothie with frozen strawberries at a restaurant within the last 50 days is encouraged to watch for symptoms of hepatitis A," officials said. "If illness occurs, seek medical care and take steps to protect others from the infection."
Symptoms can develop 50 days after exposure.
"Jaundice is a classic sign of hepatitis A, so that's a yellowing of the skin and whites of eyes. There are a lot of non-specific symptoms [like] fever, abdominal cramps, nausea, vomiting," Seth Levine, an epidemiologist with the Virginia Department of Health, said.
People who have have been vaccinated for hepatitis A are not at risk, officials said. Additionally, health experts stressed customers who consumed a smoothie after the strawberries were pulled from restaurants are not be at risk.
However, officials are uncertain if other restaurants may also have received the frozen berries.
VDH said their investigation into the incident is ongoing and that they are working with the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
It is unclear how the fruit may have been contaminated, but officials said there have been previous outbreaks involving frozen strawberries from Egypt. As of Friday afternoon, the fruit was still being tested to make sure it was the source of the outbreak.
An official with Tropical Smoothie in Central Virginia said the strawberries were removed from stores Aug. 7 and replaced with strawberries from Mexican and California.
Virginia Department of Health on hepatitis A:
Hepatitis A is an inflammation of the liver caused by the hepatitis A virus. The classic symptom of hepatitis A is jaundice, which is a yellowing of the skin or the eyes. Other symptoms of hepatitis A include fever, fatigue, loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, dark urine and light-colored stools. Symptoms develop 15-50 days after exposure to the virus, which can occur through direct contact with another person who has the infection or by consuming food or drink that has been contaminated with the virus.
Frequent handwashing with soap and warm water after using the bathroom, changing a diaper, or before preparing food can help prevent the spread of hepatitis A.
It is very important for people who have symptoms of hepatitis A to stay home from work, especially if they work in food service.
Routine vaccination against hepatitis A has reduced the risk of this disease in the past decade. Vaccination is available to anyone, but specifically recommended for all children, for travelers to certain countries, and for people at high risk for infection with the virus. Hepatitis A vaccine is available from health care providers (including some pharmacies and travel clinics) to protect against this disease.
If you have questions, contact your local health department. Click here for a list of locations across the Commonwealth.
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