Health officials say an increasing number of people are sick with hepatitis A after ordering from a chain of smoothie shops.
Seventeen cases in the state are now tied to Tropical Smoothie Cafes, The Virginian-Pilot reports. Strawberries imported from Egypt are suspected of carrying the virus into stores.
Tropical Smoothie Cafe said it stopped using strawberries from Egypt at all of its stores, including those outside Virginia, after learning about the potential issue. The smoothie chain said the cafes and their food handling practices "have not been implicated in any way."
Health officials are encouraging anyone who consumed a smoothie with frozen strawberries at a restaurant in the last 50 days to watch for symptoms of hepatitis A. Those include jaundice, fever, fatigue, loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, dark urine and light-colored stools.
Individuals who consumed a smoothie from a Tropical Smoothie Cafe in Virginia that contained frozen strawberries on Aug. 5, 6, 7 or 8, 2016, may still benefit from vaccine or immune globulin to prevent hepatitis A, the health department said.
The World Health Organization says almost everyone fully recovers from the liver disease. Symptoms include yellowing of the skin or eyes, fever and nausea.
Hepatitis A presents itself within 15 to 50 days of exposure. It can also be transmitted between people in direct contact.
There are 96 Tropical Smoothie Cafe locations throughout Virginia, according to the chain's website. Visit their website for all locations. There is no information at this time that any Maryland locations have been affected.
Below is the full statement from Tropical Smoothie Cafe:
"Tropical Smoothie Cafe was notified by the Virginia Department of Health about several foodborne illnesses in the state linked to frozen strawberries sourced from Egypt. Our cafes and their food handling practices have not been implicated in any way – the health department believes this is a single product issue (strawberries) sourced from Egypt. Egyptian strawberries represent a fraction of our overall strawberries purchased, and were predominantly distributed to stores in the Virginia market. Today, our strawberries are primarily sourced from Mexico and California. However, in an abundance of caution, we voluntarily pulled all strawberries sourced from Egypt from every cafe in our system, not only the Virginia cafes. Our primary concern is for the safety and well-being of our guests and crew members and we will continue to cooperate with the health authorities."
For more information about hepatitis A, visit the health department's website.
The Virginia Department of Health said anyone with questions concerning the investigation can contact their local health department.