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Contaminated strawberries linked to hepatitis outbreak, FDA says

photo of plastic containers of strawberries in grocery store refrigerator
Hepatitis A cases in the U.S. and Canada have been linked to contaminated berries. (Image credit: nycshooter via Getty Images)

Contaminated strawberries are the likely cause of a hepatitis A outbreak in the U.S. and Canada, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced (opens in new tab) Saturday (May 28).

The potentially tainted strawberries were sold under the brands FreshKampo and HEB and were purchased between March 5 and April 25, 2022, in the U.S. (In Canada, the berries were purchased between March 5 and March 9 at various co-op stores in Alberta and Saskatchewan, according to the Public Health Agency of Canada (opens in new tab).) 

U.S. stores that sold the berries included Aldi, HEB, Kroger, Safeway, Trader Joe's and Walmart, among others. The potentially affected berries are now past their shelf life, but if any consumers froze the berries for later consumption, they should not eat them, the FDA warns. "If you are unsure of what brand you purchased, when you purchased your strawberries, or where you purchased them from prior to freezing them, the strawberries should be thrown away," the agency advised.

The FDA has teamed up with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Public Health Agency of Canada and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency to investigate the hepatitis cases further and determine if any other contaminated products may have contributed to the outbreak.

Related: How do you die from hepatitis A?

So far, in the U.S., the strawberries have been linked to 17 cases of hepatitis A, including 12 in California, one in Minnesota and one in North Dakota. Twelve of the affected individuals required hospitalization, but there have been no deaths related to the outbreak, the FDA said. In Canada, four cases were identified in Alberta and six were detected in Saskatchewan, according to the Public Health Agency of Canada. Four of these 10 cases required hospitalization, and no deaths have been reported.

Hepatitis infections cause inflammation of the liver, and in the most severe cases, this inflammation can result in liver failure and death, according to the FDA (opens in new tab). Hepatitis A is specifically caused by the hepatitis A virus, which can spread through close person-to-person contact or via contaminated food and water, according to the CDC (opens in new tab)

Not everyone infected with the hepatitis A virus develops symptoms of illness (meaning they're asymptomatic), but if symptoms do develop, they typically appear two to seven weeks after exposure. Symptoms include fatigue, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, dark urine, pale stool and jaundice, or yellowing of the eyes and skin, according to the CDC. Infected individuals usually recover in one to two weeks, but in rare cases, hepatitis A can become chronic and lead to serious complications, like liver failure, the FDA said.

For people who haven't been vaccinated against hepatitis A in the past, the infection can be prevented with a treatment called post exposure prophylaxis (PEP), if it's administered within two weeks of exposure, according to the CDC. Depending on the patient's age, PEP consists of either one dose of the hepatitis A vaccine or specific antibodies that target the virus. Those who have previously been infected with hepatitis A or vaccinated against the virus do not require PEP. 

Originally published on Live Science. 

Nicoletta Lanese is a staff writer for Live Science covering health and medicine, along with an assortment of biology, animal, environment and climate stories. She holds degrees in neuroscience and dance from the University of Florida and a graduate certificate in science communication from the University of California, Santa Cruz. Her work has appeared in The Scientist Magazine, Science News, The San Jose Mercury News and Mongabay, among other outlets.