What you need to know about hepatitis A and the strawberry recall

The majority of healthy adults should recover with no long-term effects, however, the virus is highly contagious.

Emma Jones 4 minute read May 31, 2022
hepatitis jaundice eyes

Symptoms of hepatitis A include jaundice (yellowing of the skin and eyes). GETTY

A widespread recall of strawberries was issued Friday, with contaminated berries potentially being linked to multiple cases of hepatitis A — including ten cases and four hospitalizations in Canada.

Anyone who has eaten imported fresh organic strawberries, purchased at co-op stores in Alberta and Saskatchewan between March 5 and 9, or shows symptoms of the virus, are advised to get in contact with their doctor immediately to head off any potential complications.

The strawberries weren’t just contained to Canada, reportedly being linked to illnesses in Minnesota and California. In the U.S., these strawberries were sold at multiple retailers, including Walmart, Kroger, Trader Joe’s, Aldi and Safeway, under the brand names FreshKampo and H-E-B. They were sold from March 5th to April 25.

The recall was issued by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the Public Health Agency of Canada. Officials also warn that anyone who froze these strawberries for storage should throw them out immediately as well as any other foods they may have contaminated.

What is hepatitis

Hepatitis refers to the inflammation of the liver, which can be caused by heavy alcohol use, certain medications or coming into contact with chemicals known to damage the liver. The condition is also caused by the hepatitis viruses (usually A, B, or C — but there are six versions of the virus identified), which impact the liver in different ways.

The liver is a fairly resilient organ that functions to filter blood and process nutrients. Chronic inflammation of the liver, however, can impair its functioning and lead to jaundice, cirrhosis (scarring) of the liver, cancer or liver failure.

Of the three forms of the virus, the hepatitis A virus usually causes a less severe form of infection that most adults can recover from, according to the CDC. That being said, it is highly contagious so any outbreaks must be handled quickly.

Hepatitis A isn’t known to cause chronic hepatitis

Hepatitis A isn’t very common in Canada — between 2011 and 2015 an average of 236 cases were reported each year. Worldwide, however, it is believed there are at least 1.5 million cases per year, with some data suggesting there are tens of millions of annual cases. The virus is typically spread through contaminated food or water, according to the WHO.

To reduce the chances of contracting the virus, Canadians should wash their hands after using the washroom and before preparing food, and cook food to the recommended internal temperatures. While travelling, it’s important to only drink from safe water supplies (like boiled or bottled water), avoid ice cubes and only eat fruits and vegetables that can be peeled.

Symptoms of hepatitis A

Not everyone who comes into contact with the hepatitis A virus will show symptoms, although they can still pass the virus onto others. Children are unlikely to show symptoms.

The majority of patients will develop symptoms two to seven weeks after contracting the virus. Symptoms include dark urine, fever, fatigue/feeling tired, jaundice (yellowing of the skin and eyes), nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, loss of appetite and stomach cramps.

Treatment for hepatitis A

Most people who have mild forms of hepatitis A will recover from the virus within a span of a few weeks without permanent liver damage. Some rare instances, usually seen in the elderly and those with chronic health issues, may be at risk of more severe complications, including an illness lasting for several months or experiencing liver failure. Pregnant women are also at a greater risk of complications from the hepatitis A virus.

However, most adults recover from hepatitis A virus without treatment and any lasting symptoms. It is also not known to cause a chronic illness.

If you haven’t yet received a vaccination for hepatitis A it’s not too late — receiving the vaccine within two weeks of exposure can still mitigate symptoms, according to Canada public health.

Anyone who is concerned they may have come into contact with the virus are encouraged to speak to their doctor to rule out any complications and avoid spreading it to others.

 

Emma Jones is a multimedia editor with Healthing. You can reach her at emjones@postmedia.com or on Instagram and Twitter @jonesyjourn.

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