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87 now sick with hepatitis A linked to frozen berry mix

This is one of three frozen berry mix products recalled by Townsend Farms of Fairview, Ore.
This is one of three frozen berry mix products recalled by Townsend Farms of Fairview, Ore.FDA

At least 87 people are now sick in eight states and 36 have been hospitalized with acute hepatitis A infections tied to a contaminated frozen berry and fruit mix sold at Costco and Harris Teeter stores.

About 70 percent of victims interviewed so far have reported eating Townsend Farms Organic Antioxidant Blend frozen berry and pomegranate mix made by a Fairview, Ore., firm, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Illnesses have been reported from March 16 to June 1. More cases could be reported as word of the outbreak spreads. Victims range in age from 2 to 84. States include Arizona, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah and Washington.

Dozens of others who consumed the product have sought out immune globulin or hepatitis A vaccine to prevent illness. The outbreak of a strain of hepatitis A rarely seen in the Americas has sparked lawsuits on behalf of ill patients and a class action suit on behalf of those who sought preventive shots.

All of the ill people have reported buying the frozen fruit mix at Costco, which sold the product starting in February, CDC officials said. No illnesses have been linked to products sold by Harris Teeter. Townsend Farms recalled certain lots of the product on June 3.

The hepatitis A genotype 1B strain identified in this outbreak was also identified in outbreaks tied to frozen berries and to frozen berries mixed with pomegranate seeds in 2012 and earlier this year.

Hepatitis A is spread when human feces contaminates food or when an infected food handler prepares food without appropriate hand hygiene. The viral liver disease can cause mild to severe illness lasting a few weeks to several months. Symptoms can include fatigue, nausea and vomiting, abdominal pain, low fever and yellowing of the eyes and skin – but not everyone who contracts hepatitis A shows signs of disease.

Shots to prevent the illness must be received within two weeks of eating contaminated food in order to prevent illness, health officials said.