Encinitas Hepatitis A Outbreak Victim Shocked at Source

There are at least 49 victims in seven states including eight cases here in San Diego County

By Danya Bacchus and R. Stickney
|  Friday, Jun 7, 2013  |  Updated 10:27 AM PDT
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For the first time, we are hearing from a local resident who got Hepatitis A after eating tainted frozen berries. NBC 7's Danya Bacchus reports.

For the first time, we are hearing from a local resident who got Hepatitis A after eating tainted frozen berries. NBC 7's Danya Bacchus reports.

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San Diego County's health officials say because of the delay in symptoms from hepatitis A, we could be seeing just the beginning of an outbreak connected to a frozen berries package sold at Costco.

The berries were packaged as Townsend Farms Organic Antioxidant Blend.

There are at least 49 victims in seven states including eight cases here in San Diego County.

Read: Local Hepatitis A Cases Linked to Frozen Berry Product

Encinitas resident Geoff Soza, who loved to include the berries in his breakfast, is one of the locals affected.

His wife told NBC 7 San Diego her husband almost underwent a surgery he didn't need because it was so tough for doctors to diagnose his illness.

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“It's a violent injury. You wouldn't wish it on anybody,” Rita Soza said.

Soza says it was her husband's regular breakfast of yogurt and these berries that caused him to become seriously ill on their anniversary trip to Yellowstone National Park.

"We never would have associated the berries with his condition in a million years,” Soza said.

She was able to take just one picture of him on the trip before things took a bad turn.

“He didn't want to have anything to deal with food. This general discomfort was worsening. He started to get hot to the touch,” she explained.

Rita says her husband was rushed to the hospital. After tests, doctors determined something was wrong with his gall bladder but just as he was getting ready to go into surgery, they learned the operation was impossible because of Soza's elevated liver enzymes.

"The surgeon rushes in and says I can't operate on this man,” she recalls.

After more tests, doctors realized Soza had Hepatitis A.

They were able to later determine he was a part of an outbreak linked to the Townsend Farm berries sold at Costco stores.

Fred Gordon represents another San Diegan who also came down with Hepatitis A. She's suingTownsend Farms.

"The filing of suits like this enhance the future of food safety of all the foods in the United States,” Gordon said.

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Rita says she's not sure if they will also take legal action. Though Geoff is recovering, she says that is still her main priority.

“Right now we're only concerned with Geoff getting well,” she said.

It can take up to six weeks from the time you were exposed to the time you come down with the illness.

Hepatitis A can be spread by the ingestion of a microscopic amount of fecal matter from an infected person, typically a food worker who hasn't washed their hands.

Symptoms include fever, fatigue, loss of appetite, abdominal pain and jaundice -- a yellowing of the skin or eyes. There is no specific treatment.

The Centers for Disease Control said the recalled berries included products from Argentina, Turkey and Chile, in addition to the United States.

But the packaging convinced the Sozas the fruit was all-American because it bears the slogans "Grower. Processor. Distributor." and "Field to Farm to Family, since 1906."

"It was our distinct impression that these are raised under U.S. standards, especially organic food standards," Rita Soza said.

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