Egypt Investigating Possible Strawberry Link to U.S. Hepatitis Outbreak
Numerous recent cases in Virginia have been linked to a café that used frozen strawberries from Egypt
The Ministry of Agriculture in Egypt is investigating the possibility that strawberries the country is exporting to the U.S. have been contaminated with hepatitis A.
According to Food Safety News (FSN), a Ministry spokesman named Edi Hawash said that the investigation was begun due to Virginia media reports and that no government agency in the U.S. has issued an official request for an inquiry.
Health officials in the state believe that 17 recent cases of hepatitis A may be linked to the Tropical Smoothie Café, a smoothie chain that had been using strawberries imported from Egypt during the timeframe when consumers were exposed to the virus. The chain is no longer using the strawberries at any of its locations and claims that the food-handling practices used at its locations "have not been implicated in any way."
The health officials are requesting that any person who consumed a smoothie with frozen strawberries at any location within the last 50 days should monitor themselves for hepatitis A symptoms, including jaundice, fever, fatigue, appetite loss, and nausea.
Although officials in Egypt are taking random samples, they have not yet found any sign of the virus.
"Egypt is the largest strawberry exporter in the Persian Gulf," says FSN."It claims to follow Good Agricultural Practices at every stage of production. Genetic testing by the Virginia Health Department shows the illnesses were caused by a strain of hepatitis A that has been associated with past outbreaks due to frozen strawberries from Egypt."
The hepatitis A virus causes the liver to become inflamed. Symptoms take between 15 and 50 days to develop after exposure to the virus, which can occur in a couple of ways: direct contact with an infected person or by ingesting contaminated food or drink.
There are a number of simple techniques that consumers can use to prevent the virus from spreading. One is to wash their hands frequently using warm water and soap after using the bathroom, changing a diaper, or preparing food. It is also effective to be vaccinated within two weeks after being exposed.
It is very important that anyone with symptoms of the virus stays home from work, say Virginia health officials, particularly if they work in the food service industry.