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Hepatitis A and frozen pomegranate FAQs

 
(June 2018)

How was the affected product identified?

Hepatitis A is a notifiable condition. Health authorities in NSW identified a link between frozen pomegranate arils and a number of hepatitis A cases following an epidemiological investigation. The investigation is ongoing.

When a strong link between the product and the illnesses became clear, NSW Health and other authorities alerted the public through the media and worked with the food business on a precautionary recall of the affected product.

Are any other products implicated in the cases?

Only the Creative Gourmet brand with all best before dates up to and including 21 March 2020 has been linked to the cases. The product is sold through Coles nationally. Investigations, including testing of the products not yet distributed and from the homes of people who are sick, are ongoing.

Should I see a doctor if I have eaten the affected product?

Anyone who has consumed the product in the past two weeks may benefit from hepatitis A vaccination, if not already protected.

If you have eaten the product and are feeling unwell you should see a doctor.

Are there likely to be more cases?

It is difficult to say whether there will be more cases linked to the product. Health and food authorities in the jurisdictions are continuing to investigate cases. Symptoms of hepatitis A usually start 2830 days from exposure to the virus, but the timing can range from 1550 days. Not all hepatitis A cases result from exposure to contaminated food.

What is happening at the border?

The Department of Agriculture and Water Resources has increased border inspection and testing of future consignments from the Egyptian processor of the pomegranate arils linked to the hepatitis A infections.

All food sold in Australia (whether it is imported or produced domestically) must meet the requirements of the state and territory food Acts, which require that food for sale is safe and suitable.

What is hepatitis A?

Hepatitis A virus (or HAV) is a virus that can be found in the gut of people and other primates. There are many different hepatitis viruses but only the hepatitis A and hepatitis E viruses cause foodborne illness.

What illness does it cause?

Hepatitis A (an infection of the gut and liver). This illness is a nationally notifiable disease and laboratory confirmed cases must be reported to health authorities.

What are the symptoms?

Symptoms of hepatitis A range from mild to severe and include fever, loss of appetite, diarrhoea, nausea, abdominal pain, dark-coloured urine and jaundice (a yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes). Symptoms usually start 28–30 days from exposure to the virus, but the timing can range from 15–50 days, and usually last for 1-2 weeks but can last for several months. Children under 6 years old do not usually have noticeable symptoms.

Sometimes infected people have no symptoms.

Unlike some other types of hepatitis, hepatitis A does not cause long-term liver disease.

Who can get sick?

People who have not had hepatitis A before and people who have not been vaccinated against hepatitis A. Older people (not previously infected or vaccinated) could be more likely to have severe symptoms.

Where does it come from?

The virus can get into water and food from the faeces (poo) of an infected person, for example through poor hand washing or contact with sewage. The virus can stay infectious in the environment for a long time and might not be destroyed by processes usually used to control bacteria in food production.

Common foods that can be contaminated with hepatitis A virus include bivalve molluscan shellfish (e.g. oysters), fresh produce such as salads and fruits, and raw or only lightly processed vegetables/fruit.

People who travel to developing countries where sanitation is poor may pick up hepatitis A virus.

How can people get sick?

People can get hepatitis A:

  • by eating or drinking contaminated food or water
  • from infected people transferring the virus to food, cutlery and other things they touch
  • through close contact with an infectious person or their personal items (towels, drinkware, nappies, etc.)

How can illness be prevented?

There is a vaccine for hepatitis A. To avoid contracting any foodborne illness it’s good practice to wash hands thoroughly before preparing and eating food, especially after going to the toilet and changing nappies. You should also avoid sharing food, cutlery and drinks with other people.

When travelling to places with poor sanitation, drink bottled water and avoid food that might have been prepared using contaminated water.

Hepatitis A and other causes of foodborne illness

In 2017, 216 cases of hepatitis A were notified across Australia. This compares to more than 16,400 cases of salmonellosis and 26,600 cases of campylobacteriosis (NNDSS). Hepatitis A infection resulting from contaminated food or water or from infected food handlers in Australia is rare. Cases are normally sporadic and acquired during overseas travel or from an infected person.  

Many people with hepatitis A do not have obvious symptoms, particularly infants and young children who rarely show symptoms of infection.

More information

How are food incidents managed in Australia?

FAQs about food recalls

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