Hepatitis A Outbreak related to fruit sold at Fresh Thyme

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GRAND ISLAND, Neb. (KSNB) - A multi-state outbreak of Hepatitis A has been linked to eating blackberries purchased at Fresh Thyme grocery stores in three states: Nebraska, Indiana and Wisconsin.

(Credit: Alicia Naspretto, KSNB)

It is noted that these same berries were also distributed in IA, IL, IN, KY, MI, MO, MN, NE, OH, PA, and WI.

Central District Health Department Director Teresa Anderson said, “The blackberries would have been purchased at Fresh Thyme grocery stores between September 9th and September 30th, 2019. If you didn’t these freeze berries you probably won’t have any left. However, if you purchased and froze berries during this time period, either throw them out or return them for a refund.”

The Grand Island Fresh Thyme store was scheduled to close in mid-November.

11 cases of Hepatitis A have been reported so far.

The Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services said six of those cases were in Nebraska including Douglas County, Three Rivers and Central District Health Department jurisdictions. The cases were reported to DHHS over the last several weeks. Four people were hospitalized.

“Our goal is to protect Nebraskans, pinpoint the source of the illness and make sure the risk is eliminated,” said Dr. Tom Safranek, State Epidemiologist for DHHS. “We sent an advisory to health care providers alerting them of the increased number of hepatitis A cases in early November. Public health officials have also been conducting interviews with Nebraskans who contracted the illness to help determine the cause.”

Based on those interviews and information collected from other states during the investigation so far, the 11 people who became ill reported eating fresh, non-organic blackberries from Fresh Thyme grocery stores in three states: Nebraska, Indiana and Wisconsin. According to federal health officials, trace back information shows that the berries came from a distribution center that ships fresh berries to Fresh Thyme grocery stores in other states.

Hepatitis A is a highly contagious liver infection caused by the Hepatitis A virus. It can range from a mild illness lasting a few weeks to a severe illness lasting several months. Although rare, Hepatitis A can cause death in some people. Hepatitis A usually spreads when a person unknowingly ingests the virus from objects, food, or drinks contaminated by small, undetected amounts of stool from an infected person. Symptoms begin somewhere between 2 and 7 weeks after exposure. Individuals are considered most contagious during the 2 weeks before and 1 week after onset of symptoms. Those diagnosed with hepatitis A or persons symptomatic after a known exposure should not work or prepare food for one week after symptoms begin and until symptoms are gone for greater than 24 hours.

Anderson also said, “We continue to work with CDC and FDA officials in this investigation and will advise the public of any updates. “If you have any questions about potential exposure to Hepatitis A, call your health professional or call us here at CDHD. If you were recently exposed to Hepatitis A virus and have not been vaccinated against Hepatitis A, you might benefit from an injection of either Hepatitis A vaccine or immune globulin. Your health provider can help you decide what is best based on your age.”

Symptoms of hepatitis A include:
• Fever, tiredness, loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, and/or joint pain
• Severe stomach pains and diarrhea (mainly in children)
• Yellowing skin or eyes, dark urine, clay-colored bowel movements

People experiencing symptoms should see a physician for diagnosis. There is no specific treatment for hepatitis A except for supportive care of pain and fever as needed.

Hepatitis A is a vaccine-preventable disease. The CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices recommends all children receive two doses of hepatitis A vaccine starting at age 1 year. The vaccine is also recommended for people who are at increased risk of infection and for anyone who wants protection against hepatitis A infection.

The FDA advisory and consumer recommendations are available HERE .

Additional information about the multi-state outbreak is available on CDC's website .

CLICK HERE for general Information about Hepatitis A .

Late Wednesday, Fresh Thyme issued this statement regarding the outbreak:

"The Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control, in conjunction with other state and local agencies, have contacted us concerning a recent Hepatitis A outbreak in three states in the Midwest affecting an unspecified number of individuals. These agencies are investigating and believe that affected people may have consumed fresh conventional (non-organic) blackberries between September 9 and September 30, 2019. We are fully cooperating with these agencies on the investigation and are awaiting next steps.

At this time, there is no reason to believe that any of the product was contaminated via handling in our stores. In addition, the agencies are ONLY concerned with product purchased between September 9 and September 30; product purchased or consumed outside of these dates are NOT subject to the investigation. We are working with these agencies to identify our suppliers and isolate the source of this contamination. Fresh Thyme takes the health and safety of our customers and our team members very seriously. Fresh Thyme Farmers Market has a stringent process for ensuring compliance to all local, state and federal health and hygiene regulations.

Should any customers have any of the fresh conventional blackberries purchased between September 9 and September 30, remaining in their refrigerators or freezers, they should be discarded immediately or returned to Fresh Thyme for a refund. In Douglas County, NE, if you purchased any of these berries between September 9 and September 30, and still have them, please take them to the local health department for testing.

Again, Fresh Thyme is committed to the health and safety of our customers, and we will continue to work closely with these agencies to determine the source of the contamination."