Lawsuit filed in Virginia Hepatitis A outbreak

newspaperA lawsuit has been filed against TLC Tropical Smoothie LLC of Richmond on behalf of Constantinos A. Raptis, who contracted Hepatitis A after purchasing and consuming tainted products from the defendant.

Raptis is being represented by Salvatore J. Zambri of Regan Zambri & Long in Washington, DC, and William D. Marler of Marler Clark, a Seattle-based firm specializing in food safety. A separate class action lawsuit representing all of the victims of the outbreak that sickened Raptis is also expected to be filed with the courts on Friday.

Raptis, a resident of Olney, Md., was a frequent customer of Tropical Smoothie Café, which is located at 609 E. Main Street in Purcellville, Virginia. Throughout early August, he purchased and consumed a number of smoothies from the Café.

Around August 12, Raptis started to become ill with symptoms that included achiness, headaches, nausea, and dark-colored urine as well as stomach and chest pains. After seeking medical care, he was diagnosed with HAV and ultimately hospitalized from August 19 – 22. He continues to suffer from complications of his illness.

Several of the smoothies Raptis consumed contained frozen strawberries from Egypt. Through genetic testing, the Virginia Department of Health has tied these fruits to an outbreak of the specific strain of HAV that infected Raptis. To date, there have been 28 confirmed cases of HAV linked to frozen strawberries used at Tropical Smoothie Cafes across Virginia. Illnesses include five cases in central Virginia, ten in northern Virginia, five in northwest Virginia, and eight in the eastern region of the state.

“Restaurants often use imported ingredients because it’s more cost effective; however, there’s an inherent risk and one they are silently asking their customers to assume,” said Marler, a respected food safety attorney who has been at the forefront of advocating for stronger regulations and inspection processes industry-wide.

Marler has long argued that all organizations and companies that handle food—whether packagers or restaurants—should require HAV vaccines for their employees to lessen the chance of an outbreak.

In the outbreak that made Raptis and dozens of other ill, Egypt’s Ministry of Agriculture has launched an investigation into the tainted strawberries. A ministry spokesman says that media reports sparked the inquiry and that Egypt has not received any official request from any U.S. government agency.

HAV is a contagious disease that most often spreads from person-to-person or is contracted through contaminated food or water. The virus can cause an acute infection of the liver with symptoms that can include fever, jaundice, muscle aches, headache, loss of appetite, abdominal discomfort, and malaise. In general, symptoms begin to present about 28 days after contraction and last for less than two months. Ten to fifteen percent of cases will have prolonged or relapsing symptoms for up to six months.

“This outbreak was completely avoidable.  Regrettably, now, many people are suffering debilitating injuries,” said Salvatore Zambri, a founding partner of Regan Zambri & Long who regularly represents consumers, including victims of food poisoning.

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