Imported frozen strawberries from Egypt, said to be the cause of an outbreak of hepatitis A, have sickened 55 people in six states, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Wednesday 31 August. CNN reports that health authorities confirmed 44 total infections in Virginia, where the outbreak first appeared, and additional infections in Maryland (4), West Virginia (4), North Carolina (1), Oregon (1) and Wisconsin (1).
About half of the 44 infected Virginians have been hospitalized, according to that state's department of health. They range in age from 15 to 68. Their symptoms began in early May through August, but health authorities did not develop the theory of a common source of infection until this month.
The Virginia Department of Health originally connected the infection to smoothies, which contained the imported berries, served at Tropical Smoothie Café restaurants.
Almost all those who became sick purchased smoothies at cafés in a limited region, including Virginia and neighboring states, reported the CDC. The one sick person in Oregon had traveled to Virginia.
"On August 5, the Virginia Department of Health contacted us about a potential link between hepatitis A cases and frozen strawberries from Egypt," Mike Rotondo, CEO of Tropical Smoothie Café, said in a video posted August 21 on YouTube. He added that the company immediately removed the imported strawberries from its cafes and purchased new strawberries from alternative sources.
The Virginia Department of Health also announced its investigation of the outbreak on August 21. The department said at the time that genetic tests showed the illnesses to be caused by a strain of hepatitis A virus associated with past outbreaks resulting from strawberries imported from Egypt. On Friday, Virginia health authorities confirmed the link between the Egyptian fruit and local infections.