Ongoing Hepatitis A Outbreak Is Spreading Past Italy

An outbreak of the Hepatitis A virus, originally thought to be confined to Italy, is making its way through more of the European Union as the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) recently announced that there have been 240 cases of the virus from individuals who have not visited Italy. All told the outbreak has spread to 11 member states with confirmed cases in France, Germany, Ireland, Norway, the Netherlands, Sweden and the United Kingdom.  

Overall, there have been 1,315 Hepatitis A cases since Jan. 1, 2013, in the 11 European Union countries with cases.

The likely source of the Hepatitis A outbreak was originally thought to be frozen berries, according to the EFSA, but now the focus has turned toward the possibility of cross-contamination in food production equipment or even the possibility that the now-widespread strain was previously undetected.

EFSA is leading the trace-back investigation in cooperation with EU countries, the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control, the European Commission and the Federal Institute for Risk Assessment.

All 1,315 Hepatitis A cases could be part of the outbreak according to the EFSA, since all 240 of the confirmed cases share the same strain sequence and viral genome junction.

The pathogen has a long incubation period, the time between exposure and the onset of illness, and EFSA says whatever food vehicle is involved has a long shelf life and a complex processing and distribution chain. This combination makes it likely that additional cases will be reported and the number of countries with cases may also expand.

The investigation is using the EU’s Rapid Alert System for Food and Feed. The risk to human health and the geographic spread of ongoing transmission are both seen as increasing.

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