An outbreak of hepatitis A in Indiana, Nebraska and Wisconsin has been "potentially linked" to blackberries from the Fresh Thyme chain of grocery stores, authorities say.
The Food and Drug Administration and US Centers for Disease Control, along with state and local officials, are investigating after people who fell ill reported consuming fresh, non-organic blackberries from the Illinois-based chain.
So far, a total of 11 people have gotten sick, six of them in Nebraska. Six people have been hospitalized.
According to the FDA, the blackberries came from a distribution center that ships to Fresh Thyme stores in 11 states: Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Michigan, Missouri, Minnesota, Nebraska, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.
The FDA is urging people not to eat any fresh blackberries purchased from Fresh Thyme stores between September 9 and 30. Any such berries that have been frozen for later use should also be thrown away.
Anyone in the 11 states listed who has eaten those blackberries and hasn't been vaccinated for hepatitis A should contact their healthcare provider about post-exposure prophylaxis, which can reduce the risk of infection for people who haven't been vaccinated.
Fresh Thyme said it was working with investigators to identify the source of contamination, adding that there was "no reason to believe" that the blackberries were contaminated through handling at its stores.
"Fresh Thyme takes the health and safety of our customers and our team members very seriously," the company said in a statement. "Fresh Thyme Farmers Market has a stringent process for ensuring compliance to all local, state and federal health and hygiene regulations."
Hepatitis A infections increasing
Hepatitis A is a highly contagious infection of the liver caused by the hepatitis A virus. Though it can be prevented by vaccines, it has seen a resurgence among US adults in the last few years.
Symptoms of hepatitis A, which include fever, fatigue, low appetite, nausea and vomiting, typically start appearing four weeks after exposure, though the CDC notes that they can occur as early as two weeks and as late as seven weeks after exposure.
Symptoms usually end within two months, and most people who get hepatitis A recover completely and don't have lasting liver damage. In rare cases, the infection can cause liver failure and death.
Hepatitis A is transmitted by eating contaminated food, through close personal and sexual contact, or through drug use.
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