Hepatitis A outbreak tied to berries spreads to 1 more state

Officials announced last month that an outbreak of hepatitis A in the region was potentially linked to fresh, nonorganic blackberries sold at Fresh Thyme Farmers Market stores between Sept. 9 and Sept. 30.

Douglas County health officials have reported an additional case of hepatitis A potentially linked to blackberries, this time associated with berries the consumer had purchased and frozen.

The case, with an onset date of Nov. 15, was included in updates Tuesday from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Food and Drug Administration.

The federal agencies have been among those investigating an outbreak that initially was identified in Nebraska and was later expanded to include illnesses in five other states — Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri and Wisconsin.

Tuesday’s update brought to 16 the number of illnesses associated with the outbreak, including seven in Nebraska.

The FDA also indicated that the agencies had traced the berries to a distribution center that ships fresh berries to Fresh Thyme Farmers Market stores in 11 states, the original six plus Iowa, Illinois, Kentucky, Ohio and Pennsylvania. The FDA said the investigation would continue.

Officials announced last month that the outbreak was potentially linked to fresh, nonorganic blackberries sold at Fresh Thyme Farmers Market stores between Sept. 9 and Sept. 30.

At that time, officials advised anyone who bought berries fitting that profile and froze them for later use to dispose of them. Freezing does not kill the virus. They also advised anyone who had eaten frozen berries matching that description to contact their health care provider for preventive care.

Dr. Anne O’Keefe, senior epidemiologist at the Douglas County Health Department, said the latest case illustrates why officials warned about frozen berries.

Health officials also have heard from a couple of other people who also bought and froze them. “More people froze the berries than we thought,” she said.

County health officials said at the time that the contamination was “by no means” the fault of the grocery store chain.

Fresh Thyme officials said in a statement that the grocery chain will continue to work closely with the agencies to determine the source of the contamination.

Any customers who still have conventional blackberries purchased between Sept. 9 and Sept. 30 in their refrigerators or freezers should discard them or return them to the stores for a refund.

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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Julie Anderson is a medical reporter for The World-Herald. She covers health care and health care trends and developments, including hospitals, research and treatments. Follow her on Twitter @JulieAnderson41. Phone: 402-444-1066.

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