No hepatitis A cases reported on Peninsula

By Jeremy Schwartz
Peninsula Daily News

The chief medical officer for Clallam and Jefferson counties said health officials from the two county health departments have received about 20 calls inquiring about vaccine after a recent hepatitis A outbreak that was traced to frozen berries.

But, said Dr. Tom Locke, “no cases have been diagnosed in Clallam or Jefferson county.”

Locke, chief medical officer for Clallam and Jefferson counties, said staff with the Clallam County Department of Health and Human Services have fielded 12 calls from residents asking about the vaccine for hepatitis A since an outbreak was announced last week in eight states, including Washington.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta linked the outbreak to frozen organic berries sold at Costco.

Jefferson County Public Health staff have received between eight and 10 calls, he said.

The CDC said 99 people were sickened in Arizona, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah and Washington.

Townsend Farms of Fairview, Ore., last week recalled its frozen Organic Antioxidant Blend, sold under the Townsend Farms label at Costco and sold at Harris Teeter stores under the chain’s brand.

So far, the illness has been linked only to berries sold at warehouse club Costco.

Townsend Farms said the berries contained pomegranate seeds from Turkey that may be linked to an outbreak of the virus outside the U.S.

All of the Costco stores in the Paciic Northwest carried the berry mix, said Craig Wilson, Costco’s director of food safety.

Wilson could not say how many packages of berries were sold at the Sequim Costco at 955 W. Washington St. — the only one on the North Olympic Peninsula — because the business does not give out sales figures for individual stores.

Wilson said Costco is providing vaccinations for people who ate the berries within the past two weeks and is reimbursing others who got the vaccine outside the store.

Costco has contacted about 240,000 people who purchased the berries from the chain in the eight states, Wilson said.

Locke said each Clallam and Jefferson county resident who called about getting the vaccine had been contacted by Costco.

“We’ve had no cases, only people seeking the preventative vaccine,” Locke said.

Locke said the last confirmed case of hepatitis A in Clallam County happened in 2007, while the last Jefferson County case was in 2008.

“It’s relatively rare,” Locke said.

Jefferson County Public Health staff have given two people doses of the vaccine and two people doses of gamma globulin, a serum intended to temporarily boost the immune system of those for whom vaccines could pose a health risk, such as infants and the elderly, Locke said.

Clallam County health officials informed callers where the vaccine could be found in the county, Locke added.

Symptoms occur within 15 to 50 days of exposure to the hepatitis A virus, CDC said. They include fatigue, abdominal pain, jaundice, abnormal liver tests, dark urine and pale stool.

Vaccination can prevent illness if given within two weeks of exposure, and those who already have been vaccinated are unlikely to become ill, the CDC said.

For more information on hepatitis A and the berry recall, visit the CDC’s website at tinyurl.com/HepABerries.

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Reporter Jeremy Schwartz can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 5074, or at jschwartz@peninsuladailynews.com.

Information from The Associated Press was included in this report.

Last modified: June 17. 2013 6:47PM
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