Careful What You Eat – Hepatitis A Included With Purchase

Costco Berries Linked To Another Case Of Hepatitis A In San Diego

Careful What You Eat - Hepatitis A Included With Purchase

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Rita Soza recalls sitting beside her husband in a small hospital near Yellowstone National Park as he lay almost lifeless after contracting a serious case of hepatitis A during what should have been a joyous trip celebrating their 30th wedding anniversary last week.

The disease came from eating frozen berries purchased at Costco.

Gagging, burning to the touch, aching and lacking even the energy to sit up, 64-year-old Geoff Soza was so close to liver failure doctors warned his family to prepare for a liver transplant.

“Your liver is so compromised that operating today represents too high a risk to your life,” the doctor told Geoff. “We think you have a form of infectious hepatitis.”

That is when panic set in.

“What is happening to the man I have known and loved since I was 15?” said Rita Soza. “This can’t be real.”

“Infectious hepatitis” and the doctor’s questioning about any foreign travel spurred Rita Soza into research mode. As infectious hepatitis A outbreaks are highly unusual in the U.S. and her husband had not been out of the country, she quickly got in touch with Patty Gold, wife of San Diego liver specialist, Daniel Gold.

“She told me about a story in the San Diego Union about Hepatitis outbreaks in San Diego and that they’re reporting a five-state outbreak of 30 cases, all linked to frozen organic fruit sold at Costco.”

Her heart sank. Geoff Soza had been eating those berries for the past six months.

After more tests, Soza was diagnosed with hepatitis A.

Along with Soza, 61 other peoplein seven states have become infected with hepatitis A from Townsend Farms Organic Antioxidant Blend frozen berries, the kind Geoff Soza loved to mix into his Greek yogurt every morning.

Costco sold nearly 333,000 packages of the berry blend nationwide from February through May, the Oregonian reported.

Hepatitis A cases continue to crop up in California. Eight have been reported in San Diego County and a few Northern California Target stores alerted some customers that their prescriptions were filled by a technician who may have contracted the disease after eating the Townsend Farms berries. Three other cases were also reported in San Francisco. One woman is suing Costco from her hospital bed in Lakewood.

Costco has since removed the product from its stores.

Geoff Soza now remains almost bed-ridden in his home in Encinitas, California, a difficult change for the extremely active semi-retired contractor who loved running, exercising and just being outside.

“He was always moving,” said Rita Soza, who has known her husband for 47 years. “We have been neighbors our whole life and he has always been such a tough person and seeing what happened to his body, how weak he is, has been very difficult.”

Soza’s daughter, Elizabeth, expressed fear and anger about how berries supposedly organically grown on the Townsend Farms of Fairview, Ore., contained products from Argentina and Chile.

“Aside from my father’s extreme physical suffering and my own emotional suffering, I am heartbroken over what this incident means on a larger scale. America does not grow its own food,” she said.  “Why is produce from other countries all over our store shelves, where there is questionable oversight of the farming practices and health codes?”

The Sozas are fairly health conscious and buy mostly organic products, always inspecting every purchase.

A pack of frozen organic berries was the last thing they would have guessed to cause such a violent disease.

Even more shocking, however, was Costco’s minimal response and aid to the Soza family and others who had contracted the disease from the berries.

“I tried to contact Costco through their headquarters in Washington when I first learned about the outbreak,” said Rita Soza.

She tried a few more unsuccessful attempts to contact the company by using her membership card but could never get a live person on the phone.

“Once I was referred to a recorded message which provided two URLs much too long to copy down from the recorded message,” she said. “I didn’t try to call back.”

(Geoff and daughter Elizabeth shopping at Costco)

Geoff Soza’s condition stabilized enough for him to fly home last week.

After multiple doctors’ visits and blood work, Soza is expected to recover fully in two to six months.

But due to concerns of blood clots, he is barred from any activity that could result in cuts and bruises.

“I won’t even let him shave,” said Rita Soza.

Rita finally heard from Costco, though not in the way she had expected.

The company left two voicemails confirming the family’s purchase of Townsend Farms frozen berries and also left contact information for the CDC, the FDA and Townsend Farms in Oregon.

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