Hepatitis A outbreak linked to imported berries

Imported frozen berries have been linked to an outbreak of potentially fatal hepatitis A in Ireland, it has emerged.

The Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI) has confirmed there are 10 cases of hepatitis A which are all linked to the consumption of imported frozen berries.

Alan Reilly, the FSAI chief executive, said the alert was issued after it was established that the hepatitis cases were spread across the country.

The authority was initially alerted about three cases, all of which had a similar strain of the virus, on Jun 19 last. Seven additional cases were identified recently, with the latest case identified on Jul 3.

The FSAI is urging that imported frozen berries, widely used in yoghurts, smoothies, and desserts, should be boiled for at least one minute before consumption to ensure the virus, if present, is destroyed. “At this stage of the investigation, there is no evidence to suggest that fresh Irish or fresh imported berries are implicated,” the authority has stated.

Prof Reilly said there was an outbreak in Italy of the same strain of hepatitis A identified in Ireland and linked to the consumption of imported frozen berries. Denmark, Sweden, Norway, and Finland are also dealing with outbreaks of hepatitis A virus linked to imported frozen berries. However, the hepatitis strain in the Scandinavian outbreak is different to that identified in Ireland and Italy.

Prof Reilly said food businesses must ensure they source their ingredients from reputable suppliers with efficient and comprehensive traceability and food safety management systems.

He said the berries could be infected as result of being washed in water from a reservoir contaminated with human excrement or handled by somebody with the disease who has not washed their hands.

Prof Reilly said the virus had not yet been isolated in suspected imported frozen berries eaten by people in Ireland who contracted hepatitis A.

Zumo International — the largest juice and smoothie bar in Europe — says it has been working closely with their fruit supplier in Holland since the first recorded instances of contamination in January to ensure the berries they use in their drinks are totally safe.

Marketing manager Adrian Kelly said every batch of fruit supplied to Zumo had been thoroughly tested for Hepatitis A and none were contaminated.

- www.fsai.ie

Disease rare but can be fatal

Hepatitis A, rare in Ireland, is a liver disease usually associated with countries with poor hygiene and sanitation. The illness can be mild, lasting one to two weeks — or more severe, lasting months.

The severity of the symptoms tends to increase with age and in some cases it can be fatal. The most common symptoms are fever, loss of appetite, nausea, fatigue, and abdominal pain, followed within a few days by jaundice.

The time from exposure and onset of illness ranges from 15 to 50 days, the average being 28 days.

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