Australian officials have reported three hepatitis A infections linked to dates imported from Jordan.

The strain is identical to the one that caused an outbreak of hepatitis A in the United Kingdom earlier this year, which was also caused by fresh Medjool dates from Jordan. Dates were recalled by Sainsbury’s and Marks and Spencer.

In the UK, at least 30 people fell ill in different parts of England with one person sick in Wales. They had a median age of 60 and ranged from 6 to 93 years old with 25 people needing hospital treatment.

At the time, information sent via the International Food Safety Authorities Network (INFOSAN) emergency contact did not reveal reports of similar outbreaks elsewhere.

First time strain detected in Australia
New South Wales (NSW) Health has identified three locally acquired cases of hepatitis A in recent weeks. Genetic testing of infected people has identified a unique strain of hepatitis A not previously detected in Australia.

NSW Health and the NSW Food Authority are advising consumers who have purchased Jordan River Dates to stop eating the product, throw the remainder of it in the trash bin or return dates to the place of purchase for a refund.

Picky Eaters Pty. is recalling Jordan River Dates in 1-kilogram and 5-kilogram packs with an expiry date of June 2022, sold online and at IGA and independent supermarkets in New South Wales. Affected items have the batch number JRD 1/2021.

“People who have eaten Jordan River Dates brand of fresh Medjool dates should watch out for symptoms and consult their local doctor as early as possible if symptoms appear,” said Keira Glasgow, NSW Health epidemiologist and manager of enteric diseases.

“Hepatitis A is caused by a virus which affects the liver. This can cause symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, fever and yellowing of the skin, dark urine and pale stools. Symptoms of hepatitis A take from 15 to 50 days to appear after eating a contaminated product,” she said.

“Those who have consumed the product in the past two weeks may benefit from hepatitis A vaccination, if not already protected. If you are unsure if you have been vaccinated in the past it is safe to be revaccinated. Please check with your doctor.”

Two of the patients were unvaccinated, the third reported being vaccinated but this could not be verified. If given two doses of hepatitis A virus vaccine you are immune for life, said officials.

Import action
Investigations are ongoing to see if other states and territories also have patients with the outbreak strain.

Lisa Szabo, CEO of NSW Food Authority, said the agency is working with the date importer to minimize the risk to consumers.

The Federal Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment has provided import data to identify the supplier of contaminated dates in Jordan. The department has taken action to refer and hold all future imports of dates sourced from this implicated producer.

All consignments of Jordan River Dates imported into Australia will be held at the border until authorities in Jordan can provide assurances that the risk of hepatitis A contamination from the implicated producer has been mitigated.

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