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Virginia Department of Health Warns of Increased Hepatitis A Risk

AUG 23, 2016 | KRISTI ROSA
*Updated on 9/1/2016 at 9:00 AM EST

The Virginia Department of Health (VDH) has recently issued a warning stating that there is an increased risk of hepatitis A in the state of Virginia. The VDH is currently investigating a “cluster” of hepatitis A-related cases that may potentially link to smoothies containing frozen strawberries from Tropical Smoothie Café restaurants in Virginia. The investigators found, through genetic testing, that frozen strawberries sourced from Egypt that had been associated with past outbreaks, may also link to the current illnesses that were caused by the same strain of hepatitis A. Tropical Smoothie Café conducted a voluntary product withdrawal of all strawberries that came from Egypt. They are now using an alternative supply, after learning of their potential link to the infection. On August 31, 2016, The Virginia Department of Health confirmed that 55 Virginia residents have tested positive for hepatitis A and have reported consuming a smoothie from Tropical Smoothe Café prior to their illness.

The VDH says that any individual who consumed a smoothie containing frozen strawberries from a Tropical Smoothie Café in Virginia between August 5 and August 8, 2016, may benefit from immune globulin or a vaccine to avoid infection with hepatitis A. “Vaccine or immune globulin administered within two weeks of exposure to hepatitis A virus is effective at preventing the disease,” according to the press release. Anyone who has previously been vaccinated for hepatitis A, has already had the virus, or consumed a smoothie after the frozen strawberries had been removed from the restaurants, are not thought to be at risk for infection.

However, the VDH encourages anyone who consumed a smoothie containing frozen strawberries from the restaurant chain within the last 50 days to look out for any hepatitis A-related symptoms. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states that although some people who are infected with hepatitis A do not show any symptoms at all, some might experience fever, fatigue, nausea, vomiting, loss of appetite, abdominal pain, as well as dark urine and light stool. The classic symptom of hepatitis A is a yellowing of the skin or the eyes, or jaundice. In addition, the CDC notes that if an individual does experience any symptoms, he or she will typically see the symptoms between 2 to 6 weeks after being exposed to the virus. Hepatitis A can be transmitted through direct contact with another infected individual or through the consumption of food or drink that has been contaminated.

The VDH encourages anyone who experiences these symptoms to seek medical care and take preventive steps to avoid transmission, such as performing good hand hygiene (frequently washing hands with soap and warm water) after using the bathroom and before any food preparation.

“It is very important for people who have symptoms of hepatitis A to stay home from work especially if they work in food service,” the VDH warned in the press release.

Over the past decade, hepatitis A vaccination has reduced the risk of the disease. The CDC notes that “rates of Hepatitis A in the United States are the lowest they have been in 40 years.” However, the United States is still experiencing hepatitis A outbreaks, such as the one currently occurring in Hawaii that has been linked back to raw scallops.

The VDH specifically recommends vaccination for children, travelers to certain high risk countries, and all individuals that are a higher risk for infection, but vaccination is available to everyone through healthcare providers, so everyone can receive proper protection from the disease.
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