A total of eight cases of hepatitis A in San Diego have been linked to a brand of frozen berries sold at Costco stores, local health officials said Wednesday.
The local cases -- which have risen from two to eight since this past weekend -- are part of a seven-state hepatitis A outbreak associated with at least 49 cases of the infection. At least 12 of those cases have been reported in other California counties.
Health officials say the hepatitis A outbreak is tied to consumers who ate Townsend Farms Organic Antioxidant Blend of frozen berries sold at Costco stores. The California Department of Public Health is warning consumers to not eat the product.
The San Diego County Health and Human Services Agency (HHSA) says all eight individuals in San Diego with hepatitis A reported eating the frozen berry blend purchased from Costco.
Six of the infected individuals were hospitalized and fully recovered, HHSA officials said Wednesday. Two more local cases are currently under investigation.
The outbreak, which was first reported Friday, is being investigated by multiple agencies including the HHSA, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the federal Food and Drug Administration, and the California Department of Public Health.
The CDC says the infected individuals in this outbreak range in age from 2 to 71 years old, and 60 percent are women. The onset of most of the illnesses was reported between Apr. 29 and May 24.
On Tuesday, Oregon-based Townsend Farms, Inc. announced it was voluntarily recalling certain lots of its frozen Organic Antioxidant Blend as a precaution due to product’s potential hepatitis A contamination.
According to the company, the product was sold at Costco stores in a three-pound bag under UPC 0 78414 404448.
The recalled codes, found on the back of the package with the words “BEST BY,” include all codes from T012415 sequentially through T053115, followed by a letter. Find more photos of the berry product label below or by clicking here.
The product was also sold at Harris Teeter stores from Apr. 19 to May 7 under the product name Harris Teeter Organic Antioxidant Berry Blend, UPC 0 72036 70463 4. The lot codes and “BEST BY” codes included in the recall are T041613E, T041613C and 101614.
According to the recall, one of the ingredients of the berry blend – pomegranate seeds processed in Turkey – may be linked to the hepatitis A outbreak in the United States.
Health officials expect additional cases of hepatitis A to be reported in coming days and weeks because it can take up to seven weeks to become ill after exposure to the virus.
“If you ate the recalled frozen berry blend within the past two weeks, talk to your health care provider about getting immunizations to prevent the illness,” said Wilma Wooten, M.D., M.P.H., county public health officer on Wednesday. “Anyone who ate the product should be aware of the symptoms of hepatitis A and seek medical attention early if they appear.”
Health officials say symptoms of hepatitis A include mild fever, loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, fatigue, abdomen pain, dark urine and jaundice. Anyone with those symptoms should seek immediate medical attention.
HHSA officials say the hepatitis A vaccine or immune globulin can prevent infection if given within 14 days of exposure.
The HHSA says hepatitis A varies in severity. Mild cases can last two weeks, while more severe cases can lead to hospitalization. The virus is spread from person to person, or through contaminated food or beverages. For more information on hepatitis A, visit the CDC’s website.
Anyone who ate the recalled berry blend and has questions about possible exposure to hepatitis A can check for information at the county HHSA website.
Consumers who purchased the product should discard it immediately. Testing is still being conducted on the product and the outbreak remains under investigation.
As for consumers, those with questions regarding the product recall can contact Townsend Farms Customer Service, Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., at (800) 875-5291 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
NBC 7 reached out to Costco on Wednesday and a representative confirmed that Costco will offer free hepatitis A vaccinations to customers at their in-store pharmacies beginning Thursday. If customers choose to go elsewhere for the vaccination, Costco will reimburse customers for the cost of the vaccine, the spokesperson said.