Posted by Salvatore J. Zambri, founding member and partner.
In follow up to our earlier post regarding the link between a Hepatitis A outbreak and frozen strawberries served at Tropical Smoothie Cafes in Virginia, continuing CDC investigations have now confirmed that the Hepatitis A infections are more-widely spread, now including Maryland, North Carolina, Oregon and Wisconsin as well as Virginia, where a majority of the cases exist. To date, a total of 51 victims have been identified.
Multiple challenges to the investigation include the long incubation period for Hepatitis A (15 to 50 days) and the two-week delay by the Virginia Department of Health in notifying the public of the initial outbreak. As a result, the normal fourteen-day window for successful post-exposure vaccination was eliminated for many potential victims.
According to Virginia health department officials, the delayed announcement was due to their efforts to gather as much data as possible to determine the extent of the public risk and communicate it with scientific certainty.
One official noted that since smoothies contain so many ingredients, it was important to confirm that the frozen strawberries were the source of the contamination. In order to do so, the health department had to confirm what states were affected, what restaurant chains or other sources used the product, and where the strawberries were distributed. The official stated that it was critical to have a high level of confidence in the accuracy of this information before releasing a statewide notice about a single product.
According to the CDC spokesperson, “CDC, FDA and several states are currently investigating an outbreak of foodborne Hepatitis A linked to frozen strawberries in smoothies served in restaurants. While Tropical Smoothie Café has removed the frozen strawberries from their restaurants and switched to another supplier, we may still see more illnesses due to the long incubation period for Hepatitis A before people start experiencing symptoms. At this time, we do not have information to suggest that there is an ongoing risk of hepatitis A virus infection at Tropical Smoothie Cafés.”
However, the Virginia Department of Health’s information is somewhat different than the CDC notification. VDH and CDC are working to resolve the confusing information and update the VDH website. In the meantime, consumers who have had a smoothie at any restaurant in recent weeks to monitor themselves for Hepatitis A symptoms for at least 50 days afterwards.
According to the Virginia Department of Health, symptoms of Hepatitis A include:
- Abdominal pain
- Dark urine
- Light-colored stools
- Loss of appetite
Hepatitis A can be spread through direct contact with an infected person or by eating or drinking contaminated food or beverages. The health department advises frequent handwashing with warm water and soap before preparing food, after using the bathroom, and after changing diapers in order to help prevent transmission of the virus. If you suspect you have Hepatitis A, the health department advises that you stay home from work, especially if you work in a restaurant.
My firm has filed class-action lawsuits and complaints on behalf of injured people related to this outbreak. If you have questions about this litigation, please contact me.
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About the author:
Mr. Zambri is the author of a widely renowned book on product liability litigation. His experience and knowledge regarding personal injury is often sought by other lawyers and he regularly speaks at seminars regarding personal injury litigation. Mr. Zambri has also been acknowledged as one of “The Best Lawyers in America” by Best Lawyers (2016 edition) and has been repeatedly named a “Super Lawyer” by Super Lawyer magazine (2016) – national publications that honor the top lawyers in America.