The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) is working with the Centers for Disease Control, Food and Drug Administration and other health departments including Eagle County Public Health to investigate an outbreak of hepatitis A believed to be associated with frozen mixed berries purchased from Costco.
Townsend Farms Organic Antioxidant Blend frozen berries purchased from Costco appear to be the source of the outbreak. This 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 CDPHE is advising people to check their freezers and dispose of the product if found.
Approximately 30 cases of hepatitis A have been reported from five states, including Colorado, New Mexico, Nevada, Arizona and California. The first people became ill on April 29 and the most recent on May 21.
Five of the cases are Colorado residents, including one in Eagle County. Three women and two men have become ill. The other Colorado cases reside in Adams, Boulder, Clear Creek and Jefferson counties and range in age from 35 to 71 years. The number of cases in the outbreak may change, because on average it takes 30 days to become ill with hepatitis A after eating contaminated food.
The risk of contracting hepatitis A from eating these berries is low. However, those who have eaten Townsend Farms Organic Antioxidant Blend frozen berries during the past 14 days should contact their medical provider or pharmacist. The hepatitis A vaccine can prevent infection if given within 14 days of exposure. Some people should receive immune globulin instead of the hepatitis A vaccine. People who have consumed the berries should discuss with their doctor whether they should receive the vaccine or immune globulin.
Starting Monday, June 3, Eagle County Public Health will offer the hepatitis A vaccine at its Avon and Eagle locations at 100 W. Beaver Creek Blvd. Suite107 and at 551 Broadway, respectively. The offices are open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. and walk-ins are welcome; no appointment is necessary. Those who have received hepatitis A vaccine in the past do not need to be revaccinated.
If it has been more than 14 days since the berries were consumed, the vaccine won’t be effective preventing infection. People who ate the berries more than 14 days ago should monitor for symptoms and contact their physician if they become ill.
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 for those experiencing these symptoms not to go to work, especially those who 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.
Hepatitis A virus is spread as a result of fecal contamination (fecal-oral route) 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. People are at increased risk of acquiring hepatitis A when they have been in close contact with an infected person.
The FDA is further investigating the product, including testing berries for the hepatitis A virus. The investigation may take several weeks to complete.