June 9, 2013
Vaccines Protecting Children From Hepatitis A Outbreak
redOrbit Staff & Wire Reports — Your Universe Online
While the number of people being affected by an ongoing hepatitis A outbreak continues to grow, children have been largely spared, and routine vaccinations against the disease are being credited for that phenomenon.
According to Elizabeth Weise of USA Today, of the 79 people who have contracted the potentially fatal liver disease, only one of them has been a child.
Health officials were initially concerned that those numbers would be higher, Weise explained, because the frozen berries being blamed for the outbreak have been used in warm-weather treats such as popsicles and smoothies.
That has not been the case, however, and the hepatitis A vaccinations -- which first became available in 1996 -- are believed to be the reason why. Those vaccines, which the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommended be given to all kids starting in 2006, are administered twice: once between the ages of six and twelve months, and then six months later, CDC hepatitis expert Trudy Murphy told USA Today.
“The very, very small number of children involved in this outbreak probably reflects the high vaccination coverage as the result of the routine immunization," John Ward, who directs the CDC´s viral hepatitis program, told Weise. “It's a very powerful vaccine, it gives you several decades of protection.”
The one child who did become ill was a two-year-old who was not vaccinated, he added.
Earlier this month, the outbreak was linked to a blend of frozen berries and pomegranates sold in the states by Costco. The product in question, the Townsend Farms Organic Anti-oxidant Blend Frozen Berry Mix, was removed from store shelves and all 50,000 customers who purchased it have reportedly been contacted by Costco.
As of Saturday, 79 people in eight states, including four in New Mexico, have contracted hepatitis A as part of the outbreak, according to Carla Gillespie of Food Poisoning Bulletin. State health care officials there are advising people who have consumed the product within the last two weeks that it is possible to avoid falling ill by receiving either a hepatitis A vaccination (available at many pharmacies) or immunoglobulin.
In related news, one of the individuals who became ill after consuming the berry mix, 51-year-old Lynda Brackenridge of Lakewood, California, has filed a civil lawsuit against both Townsend Farms and Costco. According to ABC News reporter Sydney Lupkin, Brackenridge is one of eleven individuals who were hospitalized during the outbreak after she first experienced symptoms back on May 22.
Costco is reimbursing the cost of hepatitis A vaccinations for everyone who purchased the frozen berry mix at one of their stores and consumed it within the past ten days, USA Today said. Furthermore, all of the retailer´s pharmacies will be making the vaccine available to affected customers, Costco food safety director Craig Wilson noted.
“The strain of hepatitis A found in the berry mix is rare in the United States but known to circulate in North Africa and the Middle East. According to the label, the Townsend Farms Organic Antioxidant Blend mix associated with this outbreak contained fruit from the United States, Argentina, Chile and Turkey,” Weise said.
“The first victims fell ill on April 29. The most recent case was reported May 27,” she added. “The virus is most often transmitted when an infected food handler prepares food with dirty hands. Food contaminated with hepatitis A can transmit the disease to people who eat or handle it.”