The Marin County Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) continues to monitor concerns about acute hepatitis A proliferation tied to consumption of frozen berries from the Costco store in Novato, but not a single local case was reported.
Marin HHS and County Public Health Officer Dr. Matt Willis are working with the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) to provide guidance for the public and clinicians on precautions since the outbreak was first reported throughout the western United States on June 1.
As of June 14, there were 48 California residents – almost all adults, none from Marin -- who developed the infection after consuming Townsend Farms Organic Antioxidant Blend of frozen berries purchased from Costco stores. Nineteen patients were hospitalized. There have been no deaths tied to the infection, which afflicted 99 people in eight states in cases reported between March 16 and June 4.
According to Costco, 3,148 bags of the berry product potentially contaminated with hepatitis A were sold by the Novato Costco between late February and late May, when the product was removed from shelves. Upon investigation, it was found that Costco was the only vendor of the product in this region.
Marin HHS issued a press release and a public health alert, and Costco contacted each member who purchased the product. Willis and the Marin HHS staff urged anyone who consumed the product to get vaccinated within 14 days of exposure. Potentially exposed people were sent to their regular health care provider or the county vaccination clinic. Only a few people sought vaccine services from the County, Willis said.
"The quick actions of everyone involved were commendable and minimized any harm to Marin residents by their timely interventions and moves to comprehensive action," said Larry Meredith, Director of Marin HHS. "It is a clear demonstration of our public health excellence in situations that threaten the public's health."
Costco instructed potentially exposed consumers to call the store for more information and offered on-site vaccination. It had significant demand at the Novato store and ran out of vaccine on June 7. The County immunization clinic lent Costco 50 doses of adult hepatitis A vaccine to help service a wait-list of potentially exposed individuals. The additional doses were issued June 8-9, and Costco said it would return 50 doses when it is resupplied.
Willis said County staff would continue to facilitate vaccination in any at-risk consumers. Consumers and providers should remain vigilant for symptoms of acute hepatitis A, which include yellow eyes or skin, abdominal pain, pale stools and dark urine. Willis said residents can prevent cross-contamination in food preparation areas by thoroughly washing hands with soap and water. Disinfect countertops, cutting boards and cooking utensils after use.
“We have received phone calls from local residents with vaccine questions, but the number of calls has significantly decreased since this was first publicized,” said Linda Ferguson, Supervising Public Health Nurse for Marin County.
For advice about the vaccinations, call the Marin County Immunization Clinic at 415-473-4400. For more details on hepatitis A, see the CDPH fact sheet. Additional advice for consumers is available at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Visit www.marincounty.org/hhs for more information.