Virginia Smoothie Chain’s Secret Ingredient Ends Up Being Hepatitis

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Steve Birr Vice Reporter
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A popular Virginia smoothie chain is causing an outbreak of hepatitis after state health officials linked another two cases of hepatitis A to strawberry drinks at the store.

The Virginia Department of Health confirmed Friday that 10 cases of hepatitis A were directly linked to frozen strawberries from Egypt delivered to all 90 Tropical Smoothie Cafe locations across the state. The additional cases bring the confirmed number of affected individuals to 12, however others could be infected and not yet be aware, reports WSET.

One mother tried to get her son tested after hearing he drank a strawberry smoothie in the past month from one of the stores. Health officials told her they could not perform a test until her son started showing symptoms. Symptoms can show at any point between 15 to 50 days after exposure, meaning her son has to wait until mid-September, right before his birthday, to know if he is infected.

“It’s disconcerting when you hear the word Hepatitis,” Jennifer Mayhew, the boy’s mother, told WSET. “Right before his birthday, happy birthday you have Hepatitis A.”

Authorities say individuals who had a strawberry drink from any Tropical Smoothie Cafe between Aug. 5 and Aug. 8 are at the highest risk of infection, but warn anyone who had a strawberry drink there in the last 50 days is at risk. The company destroyed the bad shipment of strawberries Aug. 7, reports WUSA9.

An unidentified woman from Woodbridge spent four days in the hospital after contracting the illness.

“I didn’t feel like I was going to live through the night,” the woman told WUSA9. “I don’t remember my first full day in the hospital. I was just so out of it.”

Symptoms include yellowing of the skin and eyes, fever, vomiting, fatigue and loss of appetite. Health department officials are advising anyone worried about exposure to discuss the hepatitis A vaccination with their doctor, which can help prevent the illness from spreading even after exposure.

The CEO of Tropical Smoothie Cafe released an apology video for the outbreak to Facebook.

“‘I sincerely apologize for any issues that this may have caused for our customers,” CEO Mike Rotondo said in the video. “Your health and your safety is our top priority. We want you to have confidence that we source high quality products so that you’ll come back and visit us very soon.”

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Steve Birr