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Hepitits A shots available for people who ate frozen berry product

Apr 13 2012

Hepatitis A immunization shots will be available in Victoria Thursday for people who consumed a Western Family brand of frozen berries in the past two weeks.

The clinics being held Thursday, Friday and Saturday follow a health alert by the B.C. Centre for Disease Control and a product recall of Western Family brand Pomeberry Blend frozen berries — a mix of pomegranate seeds, blueberries, strawberries and cherries.

The clinic at the Victoria Health Unit at 1947 Cook St. will be open Thursday and Friday from noon to 3 p.m. and Saturday from 2 to 5 p.m.

In Nanaimo, drop-in immunization clinics will be held Friday from noon to 3 p.m. and Saturda 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. at the Grant Avenue Health Unit located at 1665 Grant Ave.

"The overall risk to the public is very low," according to a Vancouver Island Health Authority news release. "If people consumed uncooked Pomeberry frozen fruit within the past 14 days and have not previously received two doses of hepatitis A vaccine or have already had hepatitis A disease, they are eligible to receive hepatitis A vaccine."

Richard Stanwick, chief medical health officer for the Vancouver Island Health Authority, said enough doses will be available but demand isn't expected to be high.

"There's no worry about a shortage," Stanwick said.

The product was distributed through Save-on-Foods and Overwaitea food to approximately 30,000 households in B.C. The volume distributed on Vancouver Island has not yet been determined, according to the health authority.

The concern is real but the possibility of infection is slight, Stanwick said. In the future, it's likely there will be policy discussions about whether all food handlers in the province should be immunized against hepatitis A, Stanwick said.

The B.C. Centre of Disease Control and regional health authorities investigated eight cases of hepatitis A over the past two months in B.C. At least five out of eight people who contracted the virus ate the Pomeberry product.

After further investigation, it turns out they all had the same genetic strain of the virus, linking them together, said Stanwick.

Hepatitis A is a preventable disease of the liver caused by the hepatitis A virus that can last from a few weeks to several months.

It can be transmitted by an infected person preparing food with inadequately washed hands. Symptoms of the disease include fever, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain and jaundiced skin.

Consumers are advised not to eat the Pomeberry Blend berries in their refrigerator or freezer purchased since November 2011.

The brand and blend is very specific and consumers who ate it should know who they are, Stanwick said.

By contrast, when a food handler at Victoria's Fairway Quadra store's deli counter was diagnosed as having hepatitis A on March 30, the number of consumers possibly exposed to the virus was broad and immunization clinics were overwhelmed.

Anyone who ate the frozen berry blend product but is living outside of Victoria or cannot attend the schedule clinics is advised to contact a local public health unit.

ceharnett@timescolonist.com

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