12 hepatitis A illnesses in Colorado now traced to frozen berries

DENVER - Twelve cases of hepatitis A in Colorado are now believed to be related to bags of frozen berries from an Oregon Farm that were sold at Costco.

When the suspected link between the illnesses and the berries was first announced on May 31 by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, only five cases had been identified in Colorado.

Nationwide, the Centers for Disease Control has identified 49 people whose cases of acute hepatitis A may be linked to the berries. That count has increased by 19 since May 31.

The suspected source of the outbreak is Townsend Farms Organic Antioxidant Blend frozen berries purchased from Costco stores. The blend includes cherries, blueberries, pomegranate seeds, raspberries and strawberries.

Costco has removed this product from its shelves, although a formal recall has not been issued.

"The state health department is asking people to check their freezers. If you have the product, dispose of it. Do not eat it," Health Department spokesman Mark Salley said in a news release.

Hepatitis A virus is spread as a result of fecal contamination and may be spread from person to person through close contact or through food handling. The virus is commonly spread by contaminated food or beverages.

If you've eaten the berries during the past two weeks, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment recommends contacting a doctor for an immunization. However, if you've been vaccinated in the past you don't need to be vaccinated again.

Early signs of hepatitis A appear two to six weeks after exposure. Symptoms commonly include mild fever, loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, fatigue, pain in the upper right side of the abdomen, dark urine and jaundice (yellow eyes or skin). It is very important if you have these symptoms that you do not go to work, especially if you work in food service, health care or child care.

The disease varies in severity, with mild cases lasting two weeks or less and more severe cases lasting four to six weeks or longer. Hepatitis A infection can be severe and can result in hospitalization. Some individuals, especially children, may not develop jaundice and may have an illness so mild it can go unnoticed. However, even mildly ill people can be highly infectious. People with symptoms suggestive of hepatitis should consult a physician immediately, even if symptoms are mild.

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