Consumers in Grand Rapids and around the country are being urged to get a hepatitis A vaccine after a recent recall of potentially contaminated frozen strawberries.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration have determined that the recent outbreak of hepatitis A in several states across the nation is likely due to a shipment of contaminated frozen strawberries imported from a producer in Egypt. The berries were distributed to several food chains and local restaurants, and could pose a potential health hazard to anyone who consumed them.

One of the affected chains is Tropical Smoothie Café, which has three locations around the Grand Rapids area. So far, no cases of hepatitis A have been reported in Michigan, though there have been over 100 cases confirmed in Virginia, Maryland, New York, and West Virginia.

Local restaurants may also have received the contaminated frozen strawberries, including Biggby Coffee, Salvino’s, and Romano’s Macaroni Grill. An updated list of known and possible locations where the strawberries may have been served in Michigan can be found at the State Department of Health and Human Services website.

Every year, about 48 million people in the U.S. are infected with a foodborne illness, with approximately 128,000 hospitalizations and 3,000 deaths. So far, the CDC has reported 52 hospitalizations from the outbreak. Although it is extremely rare, hepatitis A can sometimes be fatal.

Hepatitis A is a contagious disease that causes inflammation of the liver. Symptoms typically begin to appear 15 to 50 days after infection and include fever, fatigue, loss of appetite, nausea, abdominal pain, dark urine and pale stool, according to the State Health Department.

Thankfully, vaccinations are available that can prevent the onset of the disease, even after ingesting contaminated foods. However, there is only a two-week window in which the vaccination will be effective, so consumers who have consumed strawberry-containing foods or beverages like smoothies, shakes, and sauces, at any of the possibly affected locations since October 22 should seek medical care immediately.

“The immunization is only effective up to 14 days after exposure, so it is important to contact your health care provider while you are in the 14 day window,” said Adam London, Kent County Health Department Administrative Health Officer. “If it has been longer than 14 days, you should be aware of the symptoms of Hepatitis A and if you become ill, contact your health care provider.”

Nearly 120 people in Kent County have already received hep A vaccinations as state and federal officials continue to purge the contaminated frozen strawberries from restaurant shelves. The shot is also part of a routine immunization schedule for many children. Adults over age 40 have the option of a hepatitis A virus-specific immunoglobulin (IG) in lieu of a vaccination.

Vaccines are capable of preventing more than 2.5 million deaths every year.

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