Douglas County health investigators have traced cases of hepatitis A in Nebraska and in two other states to a potential source: fresh, nonorganic blackberries that were on sale at Fresh Thyme stores between Sept. 9 and Sept. 30.
Adi Pour, director of the Douglas County Health Department, said health officials believe any contaminated berries now are off store shelves.
However, they’re advising anyone who bought berries fitting that profile and froze them for later use to dispose of them. Additionally, anyone who has eaten frozen berries matching that description in the past two weeks should contact their health care provider for preventive care. Freezing does not kill the virus.
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Pour announced 10 days ago that state and local officials were investigating a handful of cases in the Omaha metro area, with symptoms that began between Oct. 15 and Nov. 5. That meant patients had likely been exposed in mid-September.
However, health officials at the time had not identified a product or place connecting the individuals. They continued to work with state and federal agencies to try to find one.
The current tally stands at four cases in Douglas County, two elsewhere in Nebraska, three in Wisconsin and two in Indiana. Pour said she believes other cases that already have occurred also will be tied to those cases.
“Our epidemiology section played a crucial role in launching what has become a national investigation,” she said.
Health officials have not determined the source of the contamination, Pour said. That’s now in the hands of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, which is better equipped to handle such work.
Pour said the contamination is “by no means” the fault of the grocery store chain but a problem somewhere in the supply chain. Fresh Thyme has cooperated fully with investigators.
Fresh Thyme officials said in a statement that they're working with local, state and federal agencies to identify their suppliers and isolate the source of the contamination.
"Fresh Thyme takes the health and safety of our customers and our team members very seriously," they said. "Fresh Thyme Farmers Market has a stringent process for ensuring compliance to all local, state and federal health and hygiene regulations."
The virus, which attacks the liver, can range in severity from a mild illness lasting a few days to a severe illness lasting several months. Symptoms can include fever, fatigue, loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, joint pain and jaundice.
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David Andreason, 2, receives a measles vaccination during a free clinic at Jackson School in 1972. The free shots were available to youngsters through 10 years old. Howard Hansen, a staff member of the Omaha City-County Health Department, held the boy. The high-pressure gun shot vaccine through the skin.
Gregory Gonyea, 5, receives a rubella inoculation in 1970 at an immunization clinic at Woodrow Wilson Junior High School in Council Bluffs, Iowa. In spite of a worried look at the inoculation gun, Gonyea later said the shot "didn't really hurt but it sure scared me."
Lisa Steimer, 9, gets a shot in the arm at Westgate School in 1975. The Nebraska and Omaha-Douglas County Health Departments staged free measles clinics in schools after reported cases reached epidemic levels.
Creighton University law student Tony Davis presents his measles certificate to gain entry to the Law College building in 1990. Assistant dean David Paul and his secretary, Paulette Sheridan, staff the checkpoint.
Nurse Susan Lampe gives a shot to Tom Deignan, 13, an eighth-grader at Millard North Middle School, during a measles reimmunization clinic at the school in 1989.Two cases of measles had been diagnosed among the school’s students. The health department held the clinic for students who had received the measles vaccine before they were 15 months old.
Elwin Taylor, an employee of the Omaha City-County Health Department, clowns with the vaccine jet injector gun during a 1972 immunization effort at Walnut Hill School in Omaha. Facing off with him is Kevin Hartzell, 5. He was one of 897 youngsters to be immunized against red measles and rubella at the school.
Diane Leahy of the Douglas County Health Department administers the measles vaccine in 1990 to Nicki Beck of Litchfield, Neb., who lived in Kiewit Hall on the Creighton University campus.
Mike Padomek of the St. Joseph pharmacy staff receives a measles inoculation in 1990. Administering the vaccine is nurse Patty Hodgins.
Michala D’Ercole, a freshman at the College of St. Mary, gets a dose of the measles vaccine in 1990. College freshmen and seventh-graders were targeted for immunization under a county effort. Patricia Walkemeyer, a nurse from the Methodist College of Nursing, does the honors.
Nursing student Kim Kowalski gives a measles shot to John Gaughn of Las Vegas during a 1989 inoculation effort at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Free shots were offered to university students after a confirmed case was reported in a 20-year-old student living in a residence hall.
At a voluntary measles immunization clinic at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln in 1989, nursing student Celeste Lentz inoculates Katie Beans, a student from Omaha. After two confirmed cases in the Abel Hall dormitory, health officials pondered mandatory vaccinations to curb the disease’s spread.