Australian woman’s death linked to hepatitis from pomegranate seeds

Hepatitis A outbreak cases on rise
A microscopic image of the Hepatitis A virus, taken by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

A 64-year-old woman in Australia died after contracting hepatitis A linked to frozen pomegranate seeds, according to local health officials.

Hepatitis A is a viral infection of the liver that is commonly spread when people eat or drink something contaminated with fecal matter. The infection is usually mild and resolves within a few weeks but can be more serious, particularly in older adults or those with chronic liver disease, according to the Mayo Clinic.

“This is a rare and tragic case and I offer my sincere condolences to the woman’s family,” South Australia Chief Medical Officer Paddy Phillips said in a news release.

“The majority of people infected with hepatitis A recover fully and the woman’s death is the only death linked to this recalled product nationally to date,” he added.

The death comes two months after an initial recall of 180-gram bags of Creative Gourmet frozen pomegranate seeds by health officials in Australia. A reminder was issued May 8, warning people that the product was linked to an outbreak of hepatitis A in New South Wales.

There have been at least 24 cases of hepatitis A in Australia linked to the pomegranate seeds, according to the statement.

“While we expect most people would have disposed of the recalled product, we urge everyone to double-check freezers and remove any affected products,” Phillips said.

Officials do not expect to see more cases linked to the pomegranate seeds, according to Phillips.

“The incubation period for hepatitis A is generally 15-50 days, so we don’t anticipate further cases because the product was recalled two months ago,” he said.

Creative Gourmet is an Australia-based company that distributes frozen fruits to restaurants and supermarkets across Australia. The implicated seeds come from pomegranates grown in Egypt, according to the company’s website.

Symptoms of hepatitis A include nausea, vomiting, fever, yellowing of the skin, dark urine and pale stool. Signs of infection can take 15 to 50 days to develop, according to the Mayo Clinic.

In Australia, there are normally 300 to 500 cases of hepatitis A reported every year. Less than 1% typically result in death, according to Australia’s Department of Health.

There is no specific treatment for hepatitis A, as the illness normally resolves on its own. Vaccinations are available in some countries, including Australia, and are recommended for people traveling to endemic areas, child day care and preschool personnel, health care workers, sewage workers, injection drug users and patients with chronic liver disease, according to the organization Hepatitis Australia.

People who develop symptoms after eating Creative Gourmet frozen pomegranate seeds should contact their doctor as soon as possible, according to the statement.