Hepatitis A: Starbucks cases solved by DNA test

By Rebecca Lindell, BBC News, Seattle

Has anyone been affected? You will not need a doctor to tell you that something is wrong with your liver. If you’re suffering from chronic hepatitis A and have stopped consuming Starbucks products, or any other kind of food, then you should contact a health care professional immediately. In the case of foodborne diseases, you can usually be safely taken to the doctor to investigate the exact problem. Ticks spread disease But in this case, anyone that can be proven to have drunk or eaten Starbucks coffee or served it at home will need a hepatitis A vaccination. What kind of health risk is Starbucks facing? On 12 June this year, Starbucks employees at multiple locations in the US began to report that they were getting sick with hepatitis A. On 19 June, the company said it was investigating and announced that all cups of freshly prepared drinks were being tested for traces of hepatitis A. Shortly after, on 2 July, Starbucks said that they had identified signs of the virus in a machine that mixes coffee drinks. Fast action After staff were tested, these signs were removed, and in a statement on 1 September, the company said it had started to destroy unsold Starbucks products, and has been working closely with the FDA and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to test all Starbucks cups for hepatitis A. Close contact between people who had not been in the lab to be tested was suspended. Just before Christmas, company statements gave an update. No trace was found in any of its coffee-making machines. Strain of hepatitis A When health workers receive an initial diagnosis of the illness, they’ll call your GP to arrange an appointment for a blood test. Without a blood test, it is often difficult to establish a particular strain of hepatitis A. But this sort of swabbing is normally recommended for people who have already had hepatitis A, to keep tabs on their immune system. After that, a long wait is usually needed for a diagnosis. With Starbucks test results, those that had been offered testing had to wait seven to eight weeks before receiving confirmation of their diagnosis. Starbucks has been able to make such rapid progress because of its testing facilities. For the last three years, Starbucks has been in discussion with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) about testing all its coffee cups. The CDC said that if the hepatitis A was not in the Starbucks machines, it may have been from a batch of an unprocessed coffee bean that was contaminated in a peanut-processing plant. But, despite identifying this type of contamination, Starbucks said it was unable to confirm the source of the source of hepatitis A in any of its cups. Food-borne disease The CDC recommends that people with symptoms of hepatitis A contact their GP immediately. Symptoms, which can begin to appear up to 14 days after exposure, include abdominal pain, white spots in the nose and mouth, fevers, fatigue, loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, bowel movements and yellowing of the skin and eyes called jaundice. Once the illness has lasted two weeks or more, it must be diagnosed and treated with tablets or by receiving a shot of the drug that blocks the hepatitis A virus. People who have only visited a store, or if they have recently eaten at a food restaurant, but have no symptoms are unlikely to be affected. For more information on hepatitis A, visit the CDC website.

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