Friday, March 19, 2010

Semi-Dried Tomatoes Fingered In Multiple Hepatitis Outbreaks

Hepatitis recovered from Dutch patients identical to Australian outbreak strain

Netherlands officials are reporting a probable outbreak of hepatitis that has affected at least 14 individuals since the beginning of 2010.

The eleven victims, who live in various parts of the Netherlands, all were infected with the identical strain of Hepatitis A virus. At least ten of the 14 reported having consumed semi-dried tomatoes prior to becoming ill.

Last year, a similar outbreak struck the Australian states of Victoria and South Australia. That outbreak, too, was linked to consumption of semi-dried tomatoes. The source of the contaminated tomatoes was never identified.

The strain of hepatitis virus responsible for the Australian outbreak was identical to the virus recovered from the Dutch victims, according to the article in yesterday's Eurosurveillance weekly report.

France also has been experiencing an outbreak of hepatitis this year. The strain responsible for the illnesses in France is related – but not identical – to the Dutch and Australian hepatitis strain. As in the Netherlands and Australia, semi-dried tomatoes appear to be the vehicle driving the outbreak in France.

Frustratingly for investigators in all three countries, it has not yet been possible to find any hepatitis-contaminated semi-dried tomatoes. The long, highly variable incubation period associated with hepatitis infections makes it very difficult to trace the suspect food to its source. The only concrete clue is that the strains of hepatitis recovered from patients in all three countries are genetically related to strains that circulate in a geographical region that includes Turkey.

Until health authorities get a handle on this outbreak, it would be wise to avoid consuming semi-dried tomatoes, unless they have been cooked or otherwise further processed.

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