The patient count in a multi-state hepatitis A outbreak traced to fresh blackberries continues to rise, even though the berries were sold two months ago.

As of Nov. 26, there are 14 people across five states who have been confirmed with hepatitis A infections linked to fresh blackberries sold at Fresh Thyme Farmers Market grocery stores. Investigators have found that the fresh berries were possibly distributed in the chain’s stores in six other states, according to the Food and Drug Administration.

The most recent illness onset date was Nov. 15. Additional illnesses are likely to be confirmed because it can take 50 days or more after exposure for symptoms of the infection to develop. There is also lag time between when a person becomes ill and when confirmed test results are reported to federal officials

There is concern that people may have purchased the fresh berries and frozen them for later use, extending the danger. Freezing does not kill the hepatitis A virus. People who have eaten fresh blackberries or frozen blackberries that were purchased fresh from Fresh Thyme Farmers Market stores in the implicated states should monitor themselves for symptoms.

“People who purchased the fresh blackberries and then froze those berries for later consumption should not eat these berries. They should be thrown away,” according to the FDA advisory.

There is a two-week window of opportunity to receive post-exposure vaccination against the virus, so anyone who has eaten any of the implicated berries in recent days should check with their doctors regarding the post-exposure vaccine.

Public health authorities have confirmed infected people in Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Nebraska and Wisconsin.

“. . . traceback information to date shows that these berries came from a distribution center that ships fresh berries to Fresh Thyme Farmers Market stores in 11 states: IA, IL, IN, KY, MI, MO, MN, NE, OH, PA, and WI,” according to the FDA. 

The agency renewed its public warning in the outbreak update.

“The FDA is urging consumers to not eat any fresh conventional blackberries if purchased between Sept. 9 and Sept. 30, 2019, from Fresh Thyme Farmers Market stores in the 11 states mentioned above,” the agency update states. 

About hepatitis A infections
Hepatitis A is a contagious virus that can cause liver disease. A hepatitis A virus (HAV) infection can range in severity from a mild illness lasting a few weeks to a severe illness lasting several months. In rare cases, particularly for people with a pre-existing health condition or people with weakened immune systems, hepatitis A infections can progress to liver failure and death.

The majority of hepatitis A infections are from unknown causes or from being in close contact with an infected person; however, some hepatitis A infections are caused by eating or drinking contaminated food or water. Contamination of food can occur at any point during harvesting, processing, and distribution.

Illness usually occurs within 15 to 50 days after eating or drinking contaminated food or water. Symptoms of hepatitis A infection include fatigue, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, jaundice, dark urine, and pale stool. 

In some instances, particularly in children under the age of six, hepatitis A infection may be asymptomatic. People with hepatitis A infections usually completely recover within one to two months; however, in rare cases hepatitis A may cause prolonged or relapsing infection.

Due to the range in severity of illness, people should consult their health care provider if they suspect that they have developed symptoms that resemble a hepatitis A infection. All people are susceptible to hepatitis A infection; however, individuals who have had hepatitis A before or who have been vaccinated are immune to hepatitis A infection.

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