Hepatitis A virus making headlines at opposite ends of the globe – NoroCORE Food Virology

Hepatitis A virus making headlines at opposite ends of the globe

A pizza with tomato and cheeseThere’s a saying in epidemiology that diseases don’t understand international borders, and viruses like hepatitis A and norovirus cause disease all over the planet. Here are two recent news stories that highlight the human and economic impact of foodborne viruses, and the fact that these pathogens can turn up almost anywhere.

In Cedar City, Utah, a pizza restaurant recently had a food handler test positive for hepatitis A virus (HAV). According to the Southwest Utah Public Health Department, it is unclear how the person became infected, and people who ate at the restaurant between April 29th through June 1st may have been exposed to the virus. Customers who develop the classic symptoms (jaundice, weakness, loss of appetite, abdominal pain, vomiting, diarrhea, and a fever) are asked to contact their physician. Since there is a two-week window where the vaccine is effective at preventing the disease, previously unvaccinated customers who visited the establishment between May 19th through June 1st are urged to get the vaccine. According to the health department, the restaurant is staying open, and is cooperating with the investigation process. The other employees at the Pizza Cart have been vaccinated for HAV, while the sick employee is recovering and is not returning to work until cleared by medical personnel.

Meanwhile, many thousands of miles away in Australia, the costs of a large HAV outbreak are beginning to be quantified. We posted about this HAV outbreak in Australia linked to frozen berries a few months back, and its last case occurred some time ago. Patties Foods, the company that imported the berries, is expected to lose 9% of their profits this year, or about $1.5 million, because of its recall of the implicated products.

Since the outbreak, the company has begun a ‘positive release’ approach, where each batch of frozen berry-based product is tested in Australia for HAV and E. coli before it is sent to market. The company has not found HAV in any samples of its berries, while testing by the Australian Department of Health reportedly found the virus in an opened bag of product owned by a consumer who became ill (though it can be debated when the opened bag was contaminated), as well as inside a sealed bag of berries from a supermarket. Though the source of the virus has never been confirmed, a common thread among the cases has been consumption of the berries, and all of the cases were infected with the same strain of HAV.

If you want a more visual representation of the economic impact of foodborne illness, here are the stock values for Patties Foods around the time of the outbreak, which began mid-February.

Patties Foods stock values

Patties Foods (PFL) stock prices for the last six months. Image from TheAustralian.com.

An important thing to remember is that these costs do not include those for the 31 people who became sick after eating the berries, such as medical expenses and time lost from work, as well as the costs of investigating and containing the outbreak. This is one of the many reasons why preventing foodborne illness is important.

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