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49 Now Sickened in Hepatitis A Outbreak Tied to Frozen Berry Mix

WEDNESDAY, June 5 (HealthDay News) -- The number of people now ill in a hepatitis A outbreak that may be tied to a frozen berry/pomegranate mix continues to rise, U.S. health officials said on Wednesday.

As of June 4, 49 people in Colorado, New Mexico, Nevada, Arizona, Utah, Hawaii and California have been reported ill with hepatitis A that may be connected to Townsend Farms Organic Anti-Oxidant Blend frozen berry and pomegranate mix, according to an update issued Wednesday by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

On Tuesday, Oregon-based Townsend Farms recalled the frozen berry mixes, which were sold to Costco and Harris Teeter stores. The mixes were sold under the Townsend Farms label at Costco and under the Harris Teeter brand at that chain of stores, the Associated Press reported.

According to the World Health Organization, hepatitis A illnesses typically arise within 14 and 28 days of infection. Symptoms may include nausea, fever, lethargy, jaundice and loss of appetite. There's a vaccine against hepatitis A, and it may ease symptoms if given soon after exposure to the virus.

Data from 26 of the 49 patients affected in the new outbreak shows that 44 percent have been hospitalized, with ages ranging from 2 to 71 years. The dates of the start of illnesses range from April 29 to May 24.

Nineteen of 25 patients who were interviewed said they ate Townsend Farms Organic Anti-Oxidant Blend frozen berry and pomegranate mix. Nineteen patients said they bought the product from Costco markets, but investigators are still trying to determine if the product was also sold at other stores besides Costco and Harris Teeter, the CDC said.

Costco has removed the product from its shelves and is notifying members who purchased the product since late February 2013. As of Tuesday, Harris Teeter Supermarkets has also voluntarily pulled the frozen organic berry blend from its store shelves, the AP said.

Preliminary laboratory analyses of specimens from two patients suggest the hepatitis A strain responsible for the outbreak is rare in North America but is common in Africa and the Middle East. The strain was pinpointed as the cause of a recent hepatitis A outbreak in Europe linked to frozen berries and to a 2012 outbreak in British Columbia associated with a frozen berry blend with pomegranate seeds from Egypt, the CDC said.

The label on the Townsend Farms product says it contains products from the United States, Argentina, Chile and Turkey.

Speaking to the AP, Bill Gaar, a lawyer representing Townsend Farms, said last week that the recalled product did contain pomegranate seeds from Turkey. The Organic Anti-Oxidant Blend was the only Townsend Farms product to contain such seeds, he added.

"We do have very good records, we know where the (pomegranate seeds) came from, we're looking into who the broker is and we're sourcing it back up the food chain to get to it," Gaar told AP.

More information

The U.S. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases has more about hepatitis A.

-- Robert Preidt

SOURCES: U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, news release, June 5, 2013; Associated Press

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49 Now Sickened in Hepatitis A Outbreak Tied to Frozen Berry Mix
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