AZ woman suing frozen berry farm after hepatitis A outbreak - Tucson News Now

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AZ woman suing frozen berry farm after hepatitis A outbreak

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PHOENIX (CBS5) -

A 50-year-old Anthem woman, represented by the nation's leading law firm for victims of foodborne illness, filed a lawsuit Thursday against Townsend Farms - claiming she got hepatitis A after eating their berries.

Centers for Disease Control officials said on May 31 that a hepatitis A outbreak may be associated with Townsend Farms Organic Antioxidant Blend of berries sold at Costco.

Hepatitis A cases have been reported in Arizona, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Nevada, New Mexico and Utah.

The Maricopa County Department of Health tells CBS 5 News there are nine cases statewide, with seven of those in Maricopa County.

According to the complaint issued on Thursday, plaintiff Karen Echard bought the berries in the Phoenix area in April and got sick on May 21 with symptoms of a hepatitis A infection, including fever, chills, nausea, abdominal pains and jaundice.

"It feels hopeless," said Echard. "It feels like, you know I just - all I can do is sleep. And, it's just like that's my only job."

Marler Clark firm spokeswoman Suzanne Schreck said Echard spent five days in the hospital and said Echard is worried about losing her job as a healthcare practitioner.

Schreck said the lawsuit asks for damages, including physical injury, medical and medically-related expenses, wages and lost earnings.

"It was no fault of mine that I got this sick and had to suffer all this," said Echard. "Why should I have to, you know, suffer the consequences and just be, basically without anything?"

The CDC announced Thursday that at least 61 people had the hepatitis A infections that were potentially associated with the berry blend. CDC officials also said it started receiving reports of the illness late last month.

The CDC on Thursday said that based on epidemiological investigation of 30 cases:

  • 20 (66 percent) ill people are women.
  • Ages range from 2 to 71 years.
  • Illness onset dates range from April 29 to May 27.
  • 11 (37 percent) ill people have been hospitalized, and no deaths have been reported.
  • 22 (73 percent) of 30 ill people interviewed reported eating Townsend Farms Organic Antioxidant Blend frozen berry and pomegranate mix.
  • 22 ill people reported purchasing the product from Costco markets; however, the product was also sold at Harris Teeter stores. No cases have been identified that bought the product at Harris Teeter at this time.

Attorney Bill Gar, representing Townsend Farms of Fairview, OR, said investigators appear to be focusing on imported pomegranate seed that's in the product.

A Costco spokesman said the company has removed the product from stores and is contacting its members.

Hepatitis A is a liver disease ranging from a mild illness lasting a few weeks to severe illness lasting several months.

The Maricopa County Health Department recommends anyone who might have consumed the berries to contact their health provider about getting a vaccination.

The vaccine can be effective if received within 14 days of consuming the product.

Costco is offering free hepatitis A vaccines to customers who purchased the affected frozen berries.

For more information from the CDC on the outbreak, click here.

Copyright 2013 CBS 5 (KPHO Broadcasting Corporation). All rights reserved.

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