Smoothie lovers, step away from the frozen strawberries. A recent bout of Hepatitis A infections has been linked to a Virginia-based smoothie chain utilizing the frosty fruit. Over 50 residents in five different states have been infected after consuming drinks from Tropical Smoothie Café locations, and the outbreak has been connected to the frozen strawberries from Egypt used at a number of the shops.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 44 Virginia residents as well as visitors from Maryland, North Carolina, Oregon, and Wisconsin have already fallen ill, and more are possibly yet to be confirmed. "While Tropical Smoothie Café has removed the frozen strawberries from their restaurants and switched to another supplier, we may still see more illnesses due to the long incubation period for Hepatitis A before people start experiencing symptoms," warns a spokesperson from the CDC.
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The symptoms of Hepatitis A—which may include fatigue, nausea, vomiting, fever, and more—typically take 15 to 50 days to become apparent, making outbreaks of the virus harder to identify. After the potential outbreak was discovered in early August, Virginia officials alerted the smoothie café of the concern, but didn't make the issue public until two weeks later following their investigation.
Though Virginia officials say they delayed notifying the public in order "to determine with enough scientific certainty what the risk to the public was so we could understand the risk and communicate it accurately," some have criticized this delay, as the post-exposure Hepatitis A vaccine is only effective up to 14 days after exposure. However, Diane Woolard, director of the health department's surveillance and investigation division says this delay as necessary to gather enough "information to feel confident that the source was strawberries and not other fruits, especially since smoothies contain so many ingredients."
According to Tropical Smoothie Café CEO Mike Rotondo, the chain immediately ceased serving the tainted strawberries after getting notice from the Virginia Department of Health on August 5th—however, reported illnesses due to the outbreak have dated back to May.
Now, the Virginia health department has urged those who have consumed a smoothie from any area restaurant recently to monitor themselves for signs of Hepatitis A, and "seek medical care and take steps to protect others from the infection." It is important to get immediate medical attention, as Hepatitis A can be transmitted through direct contact with another person. Those who suspect they might have contracted the virus have been encouraged to stay home from work—especially if they work in the food services—and, just to be safe, steer clear of fruity blended drinks for the time being.