Public health officials in Victoria, Australia are renewing health alerts advising the public to avoid eating semi-dried tomatoes, unless they are thoroughly cooked, due to a widespread Hepatitis A outbreak.

Local health authorities diagnosed 23 cases of Hepatitis A just last week. According to Victoria’s chief health officer, Dr. John Carnie, the total number of Hepatitis A notifications is way up from last year.

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The health department has received over 200 notifications regarding the disease already this year compared to 74 this time last year.

Health authorities are calling the health alert “precautionary” as they continue to investigate the source of the outbreak.

“We are also working with the Victorian manufacturers to try and identify the source,” said Dr. Carnie. “At this stage we are unclear as to why there has been a recent spike in cases in Victoria.”

Though authorities are working to find the cause of the contamination, they are fairly confident that semi-dried tomatoes are somehow connected to the spike in Hepatitis A cases.

A recent study indicated that more than two thirds of people involved in the outbreak remembered eating semi-dried tomatoes.

Though there is a strong link to semi-dried tomatoes, Dr. Carnie admits that it is extremely difficult to pin down the exact source of the outbreak due to the long incubation period.

“Because the incubation period for Hepatatis A could be as long as two months, trying to get people who fell ill to accurately pin down what and where they ate this product can be difficult,” said Dr. Carnie.

Hepatitis A is spread when traces of fecal matter infected with the virus contaminates hands, water, or food, allowing the virus to be ingested.

Symptoms of the virus include pain, nausea, fever, chills, and jaundice. Authorities encourage people with these systems to contact their physicians.