About 44 cases of hepatitis A have so far been linked to frozen berries used at Tropical Smoothie Cafe in Virginia.

According to the Virginia Department of Health (VDH), the U.S. Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) identified the hepatitis A outbreak in mid-August after a number of people in the state were infected by same strain of hepatitis.

VDH noted that over 40 people down with the illness were found to have had a smoothie in Tropical Smoothie Cafe some time before they fell sick. Eventually, the strawberries procured from Egypt were found to be the potential source of contamination.

People sickened by hepatitis A were between 15 to 68 years old. The illness was reported by the Virginian residents since early May through August. Once the outbreak was identified, the residents were re-interviewed to confirm the source of infection.

Tropical Smoothie soon announced to have discontinued the use of Egyptian berries that challenged the health of its customers. The restaurant has over 500 franchises across the country.

Mike Rotondo, the CEO of the cafe, addressed the concern by saying that Egyptian berries were removed from all their stores and new berries were procured mainly from California and Mexico. He added that the use of Egyptian strawberries have been discontinued not just in Virginia but at stores in every location. Rotondo, who apologized on the issue, noted that health and safety of customers are the company's prime concern.

"'Eat better, feel better' is not just a marketing slogan — it's a promise, and it's something I believe in very dearly," said Rotondo in a Facebook video on Aug. 21. "Recently some strawberries may have made their way into the supply chain that could challenge that concept. I sincerely apologize for any issues this may have caused for any of our customers."

Hepatitis A is a contagious liver disease caused by the hepatitis A virus. The disease is a food-borne infection caused when a person consumes food contaminated with fecal matter carrying the virus.

The fecal-oral infection is spread from one person to another when the infected individual contaminates food, drink or objects with his fecal matter. When the contaminated food, drink or object comes in contact with the mouth of a healthy individual, even a microscopic amount would put him at risk of infection.

It usually takes up to two to six weeks for symptoms to show up after exposure to the hepatitis A virus. Symptoms include fatigue, fever, joint pain, nausea, vomiting, dark urine, abdominal pain and jaundice.

Photo: Pamela Bates | Flickr

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