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A 2019 Outbreak Investigation of Hepatitis A Virus Infections in the United States Linked to Imported Fresh Blackberries

Monica McClure, Johnson Nsubuga, Martha P. Montgomery, Erin Jenkins, Alvin Crosby, Daniela Schoelen, Colin Basler, Sumathi Ramachandran, Yulin Lin, Guo-liang Xia, Yury Khudaykov, Vilasini Suktankar, Angela Wagley, Vincent Thomas, Jacquelina Woods, Leslie Hintz, Janete Oliveira, Ana Lilia Sandoval, Justin Frederick, Blake Hendrickson, Laura Gieraltowski, Stelios Viazis
Food and environmental virology 2022 v.14 no.3 pp. 236-245
Food and Drug Administration, Hepatovirus A, blackberries, food safety, foodborne illness, fresh produce, genetic similarity, outbreak investigation, pathogens, phylogeny, traceability, vaccines, viral hepatitis, virology, Mexico, Nebraska
Globally, hepatitis A virus (HAV) is one of the most common agents of acute viral hepatitis and causes approximately 1.4 million cases and 90,000 deaths annually despite the existence of an effective vaccine. In 2019, federal, state, and local partners investigated a multi-state outbreak of HAV infections linked to fresh blackberries sourced from multiple suppliers in Michoacán, Mexico. A total of 20 individuals with outbreak-related HAV infection were reported in seven states, including 11 hospitalizations, and no deaths. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and Nebraska State and Douglas County Health Departments conducted a traceback investigation for fresh blackberries reportedly purchased by 16 ill persons. These individuals reported purchasing fresh blackberries from 11 points of service from September 16 through 29, 2019 and their clinical isolates assessed through next-generation sequencing and phylogenetic analysis were genetically similar. The traceback investigation did not reveal convergence on a common grower or packing house within Mexico, but all of the blackberries were harvested from growers in Michoacán, Mexico. FDA did not detect the pathogen after analyzing fresh blackberry samples from four distributors, one consumer, and from nine importers at the port of entry as a result of increased screening. Challenges included gaps in traceability practices and the inability to recover the pathogen from sample testing, which prohibited investigators from determining the source of the implicated blackberries. This multi-state outbreak illustrated the importance of food safety practices for fresh produce that may contribute to foodborne illness outbreaks.