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Contaminated berries suspected in 3 El Paso County hepatitis cases

By KRDO.com Staff
Published On: Jun 05 2013 06:55:55 PM CDT
COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. -

El Paso County Public Health is urging residents who have consumed a frozen fruit blend potentially associated with a multistate hepatitis A outbreak to get a hepatitis A vaccine within 14 days of eating the food.

El Paso County Public Health is working with the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, the CDC, FDA and other state health departments to investigate the outbreak potentially associated with Townsend Farms Organic Antioxidant Blend from Costco, a frozen blend containing cherries, mixed berries and pomegranate seeds.
 
As of June 5, El Paso County Public Health has investigated three suspected hepatitis A cases associated with this outbreak. So far, cases have been reported in seven states -- Colorado, New Mexico, Nevada, Arizona, California, Utah and Hawaii.

“We urge people to check their freezers. If you have the product, dispose of it. Do not eat it,” said El Paso County Public Health Director Jill Law, R.N., M.H.A.
 
Hepatitis A is a highly contagious liver disease that results from infection with the hepatitis A virus. It can range in severity from a mild illness lasting a few weeks to a severe illness lasting several months.
 
The hepatitis A vaccine can prevent infection if given within 14 days of eating the berry blend. If you have received hepatitis A vaccine in the past, you do not need to be re-vaccinated. If it has been more than 14 days since you have eaten these berries, the vaccine won’t be effective preventing infection. Please monitor for symptoms and contact your physician if you become ill.
 
Residents can seek the vaccine from a health care provider or local pharmacy. El Paso County Public Health will also be offering free hepatitis A vaccine at the Immunization Clinic, 1675 W. Garden of the Gods Road. To speak with a public health professional, call 719-578-3199.
 
The earliest case was reported April 29. The number of cases in this outbreak may change, because on average it takes 30 days to become ill with hepatitis A after eating contaminated food.
 
The outbreak is believed to be associated with Townsend Farms Organic Antioxidant Blend purchased from Costco. This blend includes cherries, blueberries, pomegranate seeds, raspberries and strawberries. Environmental Health Specialists with El Paso County Public Health have confirmed that Costco has voluntarily removed this product from its two Colorado Springs stores.
 
FDA is further investigating this product, including testing berries for the hepatitis A virus. The investigation may take several weeks to complete. Townsend Farms has voluntarily recalled certain lots of the product.
 
Early signs of hepatitis A appear two to six weeks after exposure. Symptoms commonly include mild fever, loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, fatigue, pain in the upper right side of the abdomen, dark urine and jaundice.
 
Hepatitis A is highly infectious, even if symptoms are mild. It is very important if you have symptoms, to consult your medical provider, especially if you work in food service, health care or child care.
 
The disease varies in severity. Severe hepatitis A infection can result in hospitalization. Some individuals, especially children, may have an illness so mild it can go unnoticed.
 
Hepatitis A is usually spread when a person ingests fecal matter — even in microscopic amounts — from contact with objects, food, or drinks contaminated by the feces, or stool, of an infected person. People are at increased risk of acquiring hepatitis A when they have been in close contact with an infected person.
 
For more information, visit www.elpasocountyhealth.org, call COHelp at 1-877-462-2911 or El Paso County Public Health at (719) 578-3199.

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