Here’s why fruit smoothies are causing a hepatitis A outbreak in the U.S.

Local business person Bill Stampe contracted hepatitis A while on vacation in Mexico. He discusses his ordeal and the importance of getting vaccinated before travelling.

More than 70 people have gotten sick in a hepatitis A outbreak linked to smoothies made with strawberries contaminated with the virus, U.S. health officials are reporting.

So far, about 70 cases been identified across seven states: Maryland, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Virginia, West Virginia and Wisconsin, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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At least 32 people have ended up in the hospital because of their illness. No deaths have been reported.

The CDC says traceback evidence is pointing to frozen strawberries imported from Egypt as the culprit for the outbreak.

“In interviews, nearly all ill people interviewed reported drinking smoothies containing strawberries at Tropical Smoothie Café locations in a limited geographical area,” the CDC said in a statement.

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By August 8, Tropical Smoothie Café removed the Egyptian frozen strawberries from their restaurants in Maryland, N.C., Virginia and West Virginia.

READ MORE: Are food-borne illnesses, recalls on the rise in Canada? 

Right now the CDC is working with public health officials in the effected states. Keep in mind, people with hepatitis A won’t show symptoms until 15 to 50 days after consuming contaminated food or drink.

“We expect to see more ill people reported in this outbreak because of this long incubation period,” the CDC warned.

Genise Clark, a Virginia Beach woman who became sick with hepatitis A, told Fox News that she used to go to Tropical Smoothie Café almost daily.

“I really enjoyed them. I started getting sick to my stomach and I really wasn’t sure why. I took over-the-counter medicine and then I lost my appetite, so I started drinking smoothies a lot more because I wasn’t able to eat. I was trying to get some type of nourishment from the fruit,” she said.

READ MORE: Navigating gaps in Canada’s food safety system

Clark said she’s seeking legal action and she isn’t the only one. Last week, the Associated Press reported that lawsuits are already being filed, including one class action case.

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(It’s unclear if the Egyptian frozen berries made their way to Canada. So far, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency and Public Health Agency of Canada have not listed any warnings tied to the frozen goods.

In June, however, PHAC reported an outbreak of hepatitis A in three provinces that was tied to a frozen berry blend. Nature’s Touch Organic Berry Cherry Blend was recalled in Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and Newfoundland.

Health Canada did not yet respond to a request for comment on Labour Day.)

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Hepatitis A is a serious illness that affects the liver. Symptoms include:

  • Yellow eyes or skin
  • Abdominal pain
  • Pale stools
  • Dark urine
  • Fever and fatigue

Because of vaccines, cases of the virus have died down and are typically linked to international travel or occasional foodborne illnesses.

The company’s CEO, Mike Rotondo, addressed customer concerns in a statement last month.

READ MORE: Health officials suspect E. coli illnesses linked to leafy greens

“‘Eat better, feel better’ is not just a marketing slogan — it’s a promise, and it’s something I believe in very dearly. Recently, some strawberries may have made their way into the supply chain that could challenge that concept. I sincerely apologize for any issues this may have caused for any of our customers,” Rotondo said.

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“We voluntarily and immediately removed all of those strawberries from all of our cafes, and we have sourced new strawberries for every location. We take this issue very seriously. Your health and your safety is our top priority.”