Employee from Va. smoothie chain diagnosed with hepatitis A

Nicole and Dennis Blake own the Tropical Smoothie Cafe in Gainesville, Virginia. (WTOP/Mike Murillo)

MANASSAS, Va. — An employee at a Tropical Smoothie Cafe in Gainesville, Virginia, has hepatitis A, and the diagnosis has raised fears about the spreading of the virus. The employee became sick in late July, but didn’t tell his employers until a doctor diagnosed him as having the virus, according to state health officials.

“Anybody who has eaten at that restaurant from July 28 to Aug. 18 — they may have been exposed to the hepatitis A virus,” said Dr. Alison Ansher, director of the Prince William Health District.

Officials want all customers to be aware of the potential exposure and Dr. Ansher says anyone who visited the location between Aug. 12-18 may still benefit from getting a vaccine for the virus.

“We are saddened that an employee is ill, and we have wished and prayed him a speedy recovery,” said Dennis Blake, who has owned the Gainesville location at The Shops at Stonewall since 2013 with his wife Nicole.

After finding out about the diagnosis, Dennis said the health department was immediately notified, and that he and his wife personally conducted a deep clean of the restaurant.

Dr. Ansher said the state is running tests to determine if in fact the employee became sickened by consuming the tainted strawberries from Egypt: These berries have been the center of the hepatitis A outbreak among people who consumed the berries at these cafes. All strawberries from Egypt have been pulled from the shelves at Tropical Smoothie Cafes.

It can take 15-50 days before someone with the virus — which causes inflammation of the liver — develops symptoms. Other symptoms include:

  • jaundice, which is a yellowing of the skin or eyes
  • fever
  • fatigue
  • loss of appetite
  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • abdominal pain
  • dark urine
  • light-colored stools

“We had an increased number of hepatitis A cases and as we investigated it, the commonality was the frozen strawberries from Egypt,” Dr. Ansher said.

So far, there are 35 reported cases of the virus linked to the strawberries in Virginia.

Dr. Ansher adds that the owners of the Gainesville location have been very good about educating their staff and the restaurant has done well on inspections, but in this case, the employee did not tell his manager that he was ill.

Dennis Blake said that they have taken all the steps they could to assure the cleanliness of their location. Nicole Blake said many employees are getting the vaccine; others will be encouraged to get the vaccine and will not be able to return to work until they receive it.

“It is a tremendous concern for the community and business,” Dennis said.

He says that they’ve seen a large decrease in business since the outbreak was announced, but he believes they will be able to recover from it down the road.

And he adds, “We do all that we can to ensure that the product is safe for the customers.”

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