Updated, June 12, 11:22 a.m.: The outbreak of hepatitis A linked to a frozen berry mix sold at Costco has grown to 99 people with illnesses in eight states, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The outbreak has also spawned more lawsuits, including cases filed against food processor Townsend Farms in California, Colorado, Hawaii, Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, Idaho and Washington state, according to Seattle-based food safety lawyer Bill Marler. The class-action lawsuits ask for compensation for medical treatment and reimbursement for vaccines for as many as 75,000 people who were potentially exposed to the virus. In addition, Marler is representing 33 people who were sickened. "There are some pretty significantly injured people," Marler says, including a man who was recovering from triple bypass surgery who nearly required a liver transplant after contracting hepatitis A. "People don't understand how difficult hepatitis A can be," he adds. "Some people who get sick, even in a 'mild' case, can be ill for six to eight weeks."
The outbreak "shows the risk of a long manufacturing tail," Marler says. "The longer the manufacturing tail, the more likely a mistake can get made. Once a bacteria or virus enters into a food item that's not meant to be cooked, you have a really big problem, especially when you are talking mass production. One mistake and you don't sicken a family, you sicken thousands of people. It just shows how vulnerable the food supply is to one viral agent in one component part." Marler says he expects the number of infections to reach about 300.
The Food and Drug Administration is continuing to investigate the cause of the outbreak.
Previously published, June 6, 1:48 p.m.: A 51-year-old Lakewood woman has sued Costco and Townsend Farms after she contracted hepatitis A after eating an organic berry mix.
So far 61 people in seven states (Arizona, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Nevada, New Mexico and Utah) have been sickened by the berry blend. Eleven of them, including Lynda Brackenridge, who is suing, have landed in the hospital. Sixty-six percent of those infected are women. Ages range from 2 to 71 years old.
"It's very scary that this could happen to anyone," she told KABC from her quarantined room at Long Beach Memorial Hospital, where she really doesn't look so good.More »