Schools Alerted to Hepatitis A

– Frozen strawberry and blueberry fruit cups served last week in 18 Los Angeles public schools may have been contaminated with the virus that causes hepatitis A, school officials said Tuesday.

– The public health alert came from the U.S. Public Health Service, said Patrick Spencer, a school district spokesman. The berries were distributed by the Agriculture Department, he said.

– “This is surplus food coming from USDA” Spencer said. “Apparently it went to a number of states.”

– Strawberries that may be tainted with the virus also were delivered to schools in Iowa, Arizona, Florida, Tennessee, Illinois and Michigan, where nearly 200 suspected cases of hepatitis A – a mild form of the virus – have already been reported.

– The only illnesses so far have appeared in Michigan, the Food and Drug Administration said. Those cases were linked to strawberries, Spencer said.

– “That’s where we first heard about it” he said.

– Meanwhile, Iowa officials warned Tuesday that about 300 of that state’s schools may have received questionable strawberries back in January. They may have been served as recently as last week.

– Bob Howard, a spokesman for the National Center for Infectious Diseases,confirmed an ongoing investigation into the Michigan outbreak, which has“strongly implicated” a single batch of strawberries.

“We don’t believe there is potential for broad exposure” he said.

– So far, there have been no reports of any illnesses in Los Angeles, but Spencer said “it takes two weeks before anyone shows symptoms of this stuff.”

– “We’re gearing up to staff several treatment centers at our school sites where we’ll be administering immunizations with gamma globulin to anybody that may have been possibly been exposed to this stuff,” Spencer said.

– Hepatitis A causes a liver infection, easily spread through uncooked food.Those at risk of more severe symptoms are the elderly, people with weak immune systems and the very young.

– For most people, symptoms including jaundice appear about 28 days after exposure. Other symptoms include fatigue, abdominal discomfort, vomiting, fever and dark urine.

– The virus can be transmitted orally or through human waste, often by food handlers with poor personal hygiene, through undercooked shellfish from infected waters or through tainted water or ice.

– The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention notified states that may have received shipments of the questionable strawberries, asking that school menus be checked to find out if children were served the fruit.

[04-01-97 at 18:42 EST, Copyright 1997, The Associated Press]

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