Agency held back on berry health alert
Ten people infected with hepatitis A virus, five cases emerged on Wednesday
Frozen berries, responsible for the hepatitis A outbreak
The outbreak of hepatitis A related to frozen berries has been monitored by the European Centre for Disease Control since January, and it issued an assessment report on July 10th asking other EU countries “to raise awareness of a possible increase” in hepatitis A cases. In the report, the centre referred to three Irish people infected, “between 30 and 40 years of age, residents in three different geographic regions with no known links to each other”.
Yesterday, the Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI) issued a warning about the need to boil imported frozen berries including blueberries, raspberries, redcurrants, blackberries and strawberries before eating them. The chief executive of the FSAI, Prof Alan Reilly, said the decision was taken to only issue a warning yesterday because of the jump in cases this week. “You have to make a judgment call on when to inform the public,” he said.
The FSAI said 10 cases of the virus have been identified in Ireland and half of these cases have been linked to the consumption of imported frozen berries. Five cases of the virus emerged on Wednesday evening, according to Prof Reilly.
The virus is linked to a food poisoning outbreak in Italy where 448 people have been infected this year. Only two of the Irish cases involved people who had travelled to Italy suggesting the same batch of frozen berries has been imported here. Because different frozen berry products were sold here it was not possible to withdraw products from shops, Prof Reilly said. “If we had the same products on the market we would have already withdrawn them.” More cases of the illness were expected given the long shelf-life of up to two years of frozen berries, said the European Centre for Disease Control.
Symptoms of the virus, which causes mild side effects in most people but which can result in death for the elderly, include fever, nausea, fatigue and abdominal pain, followed by jaundice. It can “cause very severe and sometimes life-threatening disease” in some adults, according to the authority. At this stage of the investigation, there is no evidence to suggest that fresh Irish or imported berries are implicated, it said.