The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported on May 31, 2013, 30 people ill with acute hepatitis A may be linked with consumption of Townsend Farms Organic Anti-Oxidant Blend, a frozen berry and pomegranate seed mix. Illnesses thus far have been reported in Colorado, New Mexico, Nevada, Arizona, and California. These numbers are expected to change (increase) as the investigation continues. This weekend thousands of people are receiving hepatitis A vaccinations or Ig shots to prevent the hepatitis A infection. Many are worried if they are too late for treatment and are awaiting symptoms.
According to the CDC, preliminary laboratory studies of specimens from two cases suggest the outbreak strain of hepatitis A virus (HAV) is genotype 1B. This strain is rarely seen in the Americas but circulates in the North Africa and Middle East regions. This genotype was identified in a 2013 outbreak in Europe linked to frozen berries and another 2012 outbreak in British Columbia related to a frozen berry blend with pomegranate seeds from Egypt.
In April 2012, eight cases of hepatitis A were reported in British Columbia possibly linked to frozen berries according to the British Columbia Centre for Disease Control (BCCDC). The BCCDC warned consumers not to eat Pomeberry Blend frozen berries manufactured by Western Family. The blend, which was distributed through Save-On-Foods and Overwaitea, contained frozen pomegranate seeds, blueberries, strawberries and cherries. Although there is no direct link, the BCCDC suggested that as a precaution, individuals who had the Pomeberry Blend product in their refrigerator or freezer should not to consume it.
In early May 2013, Eurosurveillance reported at least 71 people in Europe sickened with Hepatitis A in an outbreak believed to be linked to frozen berries served in smoothies. The hepatitis A outbreak was first announced in Denmark on March 1, 2013. A case–control study identified frozen berries eaten in smoothies as the potential vehicle for the illnesses. In the following weeks, Finland, Norway and Sweden also identified an increased number of hepatitis A patients. Most cases reported having eaten frozen berries at the time of exposure. By April 17, 71 cases were noted in the four countries. There were 35 people sickened in Denmark and another 36 sickened between Finland, Norway and Sweden. Illnesses began as early as October 1, 2012.
No specific type of berry, brand or origin of berries has been identified.
On May 29 the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) announced that it was working closely with the European Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (ECDC) to help identify the origin of another recent outbreak of hepatitis A virus infection in Germany, the Netherlands and Poland. All 15 infected people had traveled to Trento and Bolzano, in Italy.
The joint report noted that preliminary investigations have identified frozen berries as the most likely source of infection. According to the ECDC, Since January 1, 2013, 15 laboratory-confirmed cases of hepatitis A have been reported in Germany, the Netherlands and Poland. A large number of cases reported consumption of berries prior to disease onset. In addition, hepatitis A was isolated from a pack of mixed frozen berries at the residence of one of the cases.
It will be interesting in the post-mortem if United States health officials, Townsend Farms and retailers missed the warnings of this frozen berry treat.