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  • At least 17 people have been sickened in a multi-state hepatitis-A outbreak.
  • Cases have been detected in California, Minnesota, and North Dakota.
  • Hepatitis-A symptoms include jaundice, dark urine, and stomach pain.

Contaminated organic strawberries have been linked to a multi-state outbreak of hepatitis-A (hep-A) in the U.S and Canada.

On May 28, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced an outbreak potentially linked to fresh organic strawberries sold under brand names FreshKampo and HEB, purchased between March 5, 2022, and April 25, 2022.

The agency noted that traceback investigations had shown hep-A cases in California, Minnesota, and North Dakota reported purchasing fresh organic strawberries of those brands before becoming ill.

Illnesses were reported from March 28 to April 30.

The last instance of hep-A contaminated strawberries occurred as recently as 2016, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The CDC reported that 17 people have become ill across three states, with 12 hospitalizations due to hep-A, but no deaths have been associated with the illness.

The CDC recommends that anyone not vaccinated against hep-A who has eaten these organic strawberries, purchased fresh and later frozen, within the last 14 days should contact their local health department or health care provider to discuss postexposure prophylaxis (PEP) with hepatitis A vaccine or immune globulin.

Receiving PEP within 14 days of exposure can help prevent illness, the agency noted.

The FDA cautions everyone who purchased FreshKampo, and HEB fresh organic strawberries between March 5 and April 25 who froze the produce for later consumption should not eat them.

These products were sold at retailers that include, but are not limited to:

  • HEB
  • Kroger
  • Safeway
  • Sprouts Farmers Market
  • Trader Joe’s
  • Walmart
  • Weis Markets
  • WinCo Foods

The agency confirmed that the potentially affected products are currently past shelf life.

“If you are unsure of what brand you purchased when you purchased your strawberries or where you purchased them from prior to freezing them, the strawberries should be thrown away,” the FDA warned.

“Hepatitis A is a viral infection that causes acute liver inflammation,” Thomas Yadegar, MD, Medical Director of the Intensive Care Unit at Providence Cedars Sinai Medical Center, told Healthline.

He explained that the infection is typically spread via contaminated food, and it’s a “self-limiting disease,”

“Meaning that for most patients, the body can clear the infection on its own, without causing lasting liver damage or hepatitis carrier status similar to Hepatitis B or Hepatitis C,” Yadegar said.

Food-borne hepatitis A outbreaks have happened in the past.

“You may remember past outbreaks associated with salad greens, raspberries, and green onions,” said Su Wang, MD, MPH, FACP, Medical Director of Viral Hepatitis Programs at Cooperman Barnabas Medical Center in Livingston, New Jersey.

She said in those cases, there had been some contamination during the chain of handling produce, including growing, picking, and preparation.

“Commonly, this is from not washing their hands after using the bathroom or maybe after changing a diaper,” said Wang. “This is why handwashing for food handlers is so important.”

According to the CDC, the symptoms of hep-A usually appear two to seven weeks after exposure and may include symptoms like:

  • Jaundice, which causes yellow skin or eyes
  • Stomach upset or pain
  • Dark urine or light-colored stools

The CDC pointed out that not every person with hep-A has symptoms, but adults are more likely to experience them than children.

“The typical disease course is a few weeks with an initial period of fever, fatigue, and abdominal pain, followed by jaundice,” said Yadegar. “A healthy liver can fully recover from Hepatitis A within 3-6 months.”

According to Yadegar, the most effective way to protect yourself against a Hepatitis A infection is to ensure full vaccination status.

“In the United States, the first Hepatitis A vaccine in the full series is generally given during childhood at ages 1 to 2, followed by a second dose 6 months later,” he said. “Some patients may require additional doses in their adulthood, depending upon their individual risk.”

He added that avoidance of close contact with Hepatitis A positive patients, along with thorough handwashing after using the restroom and before food preparation, are the best practices for avoiding infection.

On May 28, the FDA announced a multi-state outbreak of hepatitis-A potentially linked to certain brands of organic strawberries that have affected 17 people and hospitalized 12 so far.

Experts say symptoms of infection begin from two to seven weeks after infection.

They also say that being vaccinated against hep-A, handwashing, and avoiding close contact with those with hep-A, are the best measures against this potentially deadly virus.