Wed June 5, 2013

Health Officials Expect More Cases From Hepatitis Outbreak

Packages of frozen berries from Oregon-based Townsend Farms, labeled as "antioxident blend," are being investigated as the cause of a multi-state outbreak of hepatitis A, including a dozen cases in Colorado.
Credit Wikiphoto

Colorado health officials are investigating a dozen cases of hepatitis A within the state, a number that could climb higher as time goes on.

The cases are potentially tied to packages of organic frozen berries sold at Costco and Harris Teeter stores across the country. Nationwide, 49 people have been sickened by hepatitis and may be linked to the outbreak, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Cases have popped up in six other states besides Colorado: New Mexico, Nevada, Arizona, Utah, Hawaii, and California.

People sickened in the outbreak range from 2 to 71 years old, with about 60 percent of those ill being women. About 44 percent of patients have been hospitalized due to the hepatitis infection.

The maker of the berry mix, Oregon-based Townsend Farms, has since issued a voluntary recall of the product. The berries came from Townsend Farms, but the product itself had been sourced from all over the world, including Turkey, Chile and Argentina.

Colorado health officials are expecting the number of cases to rise in the coming days and weeks. “It takes on average one month to develop illness after ingesting the virus, so we do expect to hear about more cases,” said Jan Stapleton, a spokeswoman for the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE).

The 12 cases under investigation in Colorado span eight counties: Adams, Arapahoe, Boulder, Clear Creek, Douglas, Eagle, El Paso and Jefferson.

Last week, Costco called customers known to have purchased the frozen berries. Approximately 240,000 customers were notified that they had purchased the bags of mixed berries and pomegranates.

Early signs of hepatitis A appear two to six weeks after exposure, according to CDPHE. Symptoms 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 infections vary in severity. Mild cases can last two weeks or less. More severe cases last four to six weeks or longer. The CDC cautions that even mildly ill people can be highly infectious.