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Three WV hepatitis A cases linked to smoothie cafe

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. — Three out of four cases of Hepatitis A in the Eastern Panhandle have been linked to the Tropical Smoothie Cafe in Martinsburg, according to Dr. David Didden, physician director at the Jefferson County Health Department. Didden said the fourth case of Hepatitis A is still under investigation.

The local smoothie franchise, located on Retail Commons Parkway in Martinsburg, is said to have received shipments of contaminated frozen strawberries earlier this month. There are more than 500 franchise locations across the country.

Tropical Smoothie Cafes throughout West Virginia, Virginia, Maryland and North Carolina have been under investigation after more than 50 cases of Hepatitis A throughout the region were linked to a shipment of frozen strawberries sourced from Egypt, Didden said.

The Virginia Department of Health traced the source of the Hepatitis A virus to frozen strawberries imported from Egypt and used in smoothies in July or early August. The department confirmed that all the potentially contaminated berries were pulled from the 96 Tropical Smoothie Cafe locations in Virginia no later than Aug. 9.

Didden said he believes the “considered window” for contamination would have been between Aug. 5 through Aug. 8. However, Didden said he has heard of cases earlier than that.

“This seems to be a part of a broader trend that goes back to May,” Didden said.

Peyton Sadler, communications representative for Tropical Smoothie Cafe, said its headquarters was notified by the Virginia Department of Health about several foodborne illnesses in the state linked to frozen strawberries sourced from Egypt.

“Egyptian strawberries represent a fraction of our overall strawberries purchased, and were predominantly only distributed to stores in the Virginia market,” Sadler said.

Sadler said Tropical Smoothie Cafe and its food handling practices “have not been implicated in any way.”

“The health department believes this is a single product issue (strawberries) sourced from Egypt,” Sadler said. “Today, our strawberries are sourced from Mexico and California. However, in an abundance of caution, we voluntarily pulled all strawberries sourced from Egypt from every cafe in our system, not only the Virginia cafes. Our primary concern is for the safety and well-being of our guests and crew members and we will continue to cooperate with the health authorities in the investigation.”

Didden said Hepatitis A affects the liver and causes symptoms such as: jaundice (yellowing of the skin or eyes), fever, loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, dark-colored urine and light-colored stool.

“Most all cases of Hepatitis A do resolve on their own,” Didden said. “There is no treatment, and almost everyone gets well again. It is not considered to be deadly but can make people really sick. Hospitalization may be needed.”

According to Didden, symptoms of Hepatitis A can take awhile to expose themselves.

“It can take between 15 and 50 days, most of them occurring earlier in the two week to one month time frame. But, it could be as late as 50 days,” Didden said. Didden added it can also be transmitted between people in direct contact.

Both Jefferson and Berkeley County Health Departments are offering vaccines to anyone who may think they have been exposed, according to Didden. He also said he encourages anyone who has symptoms to visit their local heathcare provider to be checked.

The Journal reached out to the Berkeley County Health Department for comment but was told they could not comment at this time.

-Staff writer Katiann Marshall can be reached at 304-263-8931, ext. 182 or at www.twitter.com/kmarshallJN.

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