Hepatitis A is in the news, and that’s not good. Although one outbreak involves scallops and the other involves strawberries, both have been traced back to Egypt. “Incidents like this, where imported produce leads to foodborne illness, put the wisdom of cross-border trade initiatives into question,” Food Logistics magazine noted in an “Editor’s Insight” referring to the incident likely involving strawberries used in smoothies from Tropical Smoothie Cafes in Virginia.
Seventy people infected with hepatitis A linked to this outbreak have been reported from seven states, with 32 people known to be hospitalized, the magazine reported. The investigation began in early August, with 68 of the 70 victims reporting that they drank a smoothie from Tropical Smoothie Café in the month before getting sick. The majority drank smoothies containing strawberries, and epidemiologic and trace-back evidence available at this time indicate frozen strawberries imported from Egypt as the likely source.
Second outbreak: The Hawaii Department of Health released a new update on August 31 raising the number of confirmed cases of hepatitis A to 241 in another outbreak linked to imported scallops, with 13 new cases identified in the last week. Sixty-four people have required hospitalization. Employees from seven restaurants and two flight attendants who work for Hawaiian Airlines have been diagnosed with the disease.
In mid-August, the outbreak source was identified as frozen scallops imported from Egypt and served at Genki Sushi Restaurants, according to the Food Poisoning Bulletin. More cases likely will be reported in both cases during the next few weeks because the virus’ incubation period can be as long as 50 days, and people are contagious two weeks before they know they are sick. Symptoms include lethargy, fatigue, dark urine, abdominal pain, clay-colored stools, jaundice, fever, weight loss, and loss of appetite. There is no cure for hepatitis A, which must run its course.
The virus is found in the stool of someone with hepatitis A and is often spread from person to person on the contaminated hands of workers, typically under poor sanitary conditions. The globalization of the supply chain has resulted in more food recalls, Food Logistics magazine notes. According to Swiss Reinsurance Company Ltd., the number of U.S. food recalls doubled from 2002 to 2015, the magazine said.