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Frozen berries tied to hepatitis outbreak: LA county operating special medical clinics

Townsend Farms
Townsend Farms "Organic Antioxidant Blend" frozen berries sold at Costco have been linked to a multi-state outbreak of Hepatitis A. California has confirmed at least seven related cases.
Photo via California Department of Public Health

The Los Angeles County Department of Public Health will operate special  hepatitis treatment clinics on Saturday and Sunday to offer preventative care to anyone who may have been exposed to frozen berries sold at Costco stores that have been linked to a multistate outbreak of hepatitis A infections.

How many confirmed cases, and where in California?

At least 30 cases of hepatitis A nationwide that may be linked to Townsend Farms Organic Antioxidant Blend frozen berries were being investigated as of Friday, according to Dr. Jonathan E. Fielding, Los Angeles County's director of public health and health officer. No other product is considered to be at risk.

According to Fielding, there were seven confirmed illnesses in California in people who consumed the product:

Three of the individuals above have been hospitalized, and no deaths have been reported, Fielding said, noting also that a second possible case in Los Angeles County is under investigation.

What if the berries are in my house?

Throw them away. Even if no one is sick.

What if I ate the berries or someone in my house did?

Fielding said that anyone who has consumed "this specific product should contact their doctor within the 14-day period to discuss possible hepatitis A prevention and treatment options."

Close contacts, including household and sexual partners, are also at risk for acquiring hepatitis A from an infected person. It is important to be diagnosed promptly to ensure that treatments are effective, Fielding said.

Routine vaccination and thorough handwashing with soap and hot water after using the toilet and before handling food are the most effective factors in preventing the spread of the disease, Fielding said.

What are the symptoms of hepatitis A?

The incubation period for hepatitis A is two to seven weeks. People who may have been exposed should watch for the following symptoms -- jaundice (a yellow color to the eyes or skin), fatigue and light-colored bowel movements, nausea, fever, loss of appetite, abdominal cramps, vomiting and dark-colored urine, Fielding said.

People experiencing those symptoms, should contact their physicians, Fielding said. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the California Department of Public Health both have detail fact sheets on hepatitis and the outbreak.

What's the treatment for hepatitis A?

Health officials recommend that individuals who ate this product or were otherwise exposed to receive an IG shot or hepatitis A vaccination to prevent or reduce illness. IG is a shot of concentrated antibodies made from donated blood, providing temporary protection. The hepatitis A vaccine helps the body develop its own antibodies, providing longer-lasting protection. 

Shots must be received within 14 days of exposure in order to reduce or prevent illness, Fielding said.

People who have been vaccinated against hepatitis A or have received IG within the last three months or have ever had laboratory confirmed infection with the hepatitis A virus also do not need an injection of IG, Fielding said.

Where can I get treatment?

The Department of Public Health is encouraging affected residents to seek IG or vaccine through their personal physicians, however they will also be operating special clinics from 10 a.m- 4 p.m. today and Sunday at the following locations to offer preventive treatment to anyone who may have been exposed to this product:

-- Antelope Valley Health Center, 335 Avenue K-6, Lancaster;

-- North Hollywood Health Center, 5300 Tujunga Ave., North Hollywood;

-- Monrovia Health Center, 330 W. Maple Ave., Monrovia;

-- Hollywood Wilshire Health Center, 5205 Melrose Ave., Hollywood;

-- Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Public Health, 11833 S. Wilmington Ave., Willowbrook;

-- Whittier Health Center, 7643 S. Painter Ave., Whittier; and

-- Curtis Tucker Health Center, 123 W. Manchester Blvd., Inglewood.

What action has been taken by Costco and other health agencies?

Costco has removed this product from stores and is notifying their customers who have bought this product.

The California Department of Public Health (CDPH) reports they will continue working with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Food and Drug Administration on this outbreak.