RICHMOND, Va. — The number of confirmed cases of hepatitis A linked to frozen strawberries used at Tropical Smoothie Cafes across Virginia continues to climb.
As of Tuesday, there were four new confirmed cases, bringing the total number of cases among Virginia residents to 44, according to the Virginia Department of Health (VDH).
On Friday, the VDH said there were six cases in Central Virginia, 14 in Northern Virginia, five in Northwest Virginia and 10 in the eastern region of the state. No new statistics have been released to include the nine new cases.
The hepatitis A outbreak was first reported on August 19, and the cases have steadily increased.
A law firm representing several people who became sick announced plans to file a class action lawsuit against the chain in connection with the outbreak.
Initial reports were that the VDH identified a possible link between frozen strawberries from Egypt that were used at Tropical Smoothie Cafés between August 5 and August 8.
However, on Monday, the VDH website indicated the exposure could go back to May.
“Onsets of illness for the 40 cases range from early May through mid-August. The common exposure shared by ill persons was not hypothesized until August, at which time VDH re-interviewed persons reported earlier in the year to confirm the link with smoothie consumption.”
This product has been removed from use at all Tropical Smoothie locations in Virginia. Mike Rotondo, CEO, posted a video message on Twitter apologizing to Virginia customers.
“I sincerely apologize for any issues that this may have caused for any of our customers,” he said.
He also outlined what the company did the moment they found out the strawberries were tainted.
“On August 5, the Virginia Department of Heath contacted us about a potential link between hepatitis A cases and frozen strawberries from Egypt.
He said the company voluntarily withdrew all of the strawberries sourced from Egypt and found an alternate supply for all of their locations.
Last week, CBS 6 reported urgent care offices in the Richmond-area have seen an increase in patients with symptoms that might be caused by hepatitis A.
Approximately 55% of the residents, for whom information is available, have been hospitalized for their illness. The 44 ill residents range in age from 15-68, according to the VDH.
Classic symptoms of hepatitis A are fatigue, nausea, abdominal cramps and jaundice, the yellowing of the skin and eyes. Symptoms can develop 50 days after exposure, officials said.
People who have been vaccinated for hepatitis A are not at risk, officials said. Additionally, health experts stressed customers who consumed a smoothie after the strawberries were pulled from restaurants are not be at risk.