can berries give your baby hepatitis A?
February 19, 2015 4:02 PM   Subscribe

i have a question regarding imported food product into australia. it is not to be critical of any process or culture, i just want some factual answers. the stuff i think i know: is it possible that a person (although immunized against hep A) could handle or eat food product that is contaminated with the virus, and in the interim get pregnant, and cause some harm to the baby? to put it another way, would the baby be immunized because the mother is immunized?

the stuff i think i know:
- recently some frozen berry products imported into australia from another country have contained the virus hepatitis A.
- more than 10 people have now contraced the virus across the country.
- i believe the incubation period of hep A is 4-7 weeks.
- someone i know might have eaten a strain of the same berries, around 4 weeks ago.
- that person is immunized.
- that person might be pregnant.
1. is there any way that the virus is still carried by the mother and could cause harm to the baby?
2. is the baby immunized by default?
3. should the freezer that contained the packet that contained the berries that contained the virus be completely cleaned out and sanitised? if so how?
posted by edtut to Science & Nature (9 answers total)
I'm not an expert on hepatitis A, but in general, if a pregnant woman is exposed to a disease to which she is immune, whether by immunization or past infection, she doesn't get infected and there is no systemic illness to pass to the baby.

It's a good idea to toss out the rest of the suspect berries but, IMO, no need to disinfect the freezer.
posted by lakeroon at 4:38 PM on February 19, 2015

Wouldn't this be the same as Rubella? If a non-immune woman catches Rubella at the wrong part of her pregnancy, the virus can cross the placenta and cause the baby to be malformed.

But if the mother is immune (either through vaccination or by having had the disease) her baby is protected and will develop properly.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 4:39 PM on February 19, 2015

Wouldn't this be the same as Rubella?
I don't know and neither do you.

edtut, your question contains so many conditionals that it's difficult to figure out what you're really asking, and on whose behalf.
posted by dogrose at 7:44 PM on February 19, 2015 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: i tried to simplify it here:
is it possible that a person - although immunized against hep A - could handle or eat food product that is contaminated with the virus, and in the interim get pregnant, and it could cause some harm to the baby?
that isn't conditional, i am not sure what i can add to that
posted by edtut at 8:09 PM on February 19, 2015

It is not like rubella. there are a specific group of infections which can cause congenital disease. Rubella is one of them. Hepatitis B is one of them but hepatitis A is not.

Your phrasing in the question implies a misunderstanding about vaccines. If the mother is immunized (let's say against hep B, since there is a vaccine and it can cause congenital infections), it doesn't mean the baby is immunized, it means the baby cannot get congenital hep B because the mother doesn't get the infection and thus the baby is not exposed. However, mom does give antibodies to the baby as well, so for example if mom has recent pertussis vaccine or is immune to MMR, the baby will (for a period of months) have maternal antibodies circulating and will have some protection against the illness.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 8:36 PM on February 19, 2015 [3 favorites]

It is also unclear what "the interim" means here. Are you saying she got pregnant later, after eating the berries? If she was not pregnant at the time she ate the berries then even if hepatitis A did cause congenital disease (which it doesn't) and your friend was not immunized against hepatitis A (which she is), hepatitis A does not cause a chronic infection like some other hepatitis viruses do.

also, hepatitis A is transmitted by fecal-oral route, meaning that berries giving people hepatitis A must be fecally contaminated. If the berries were stored in a sealed container in the freezer there is no need to clean or sanitize the freezer which had no physical contact with the fecal particles in the berries.

is your friend a very anxious person? I recommend the book "Expecting Better" by Emily Oster. Lots of scientifically grounded straight talk, very helpful for pregnant ladies to assuage concerns about diet, infections, what doesnt need to be avoided and what does.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 8:45 PM on February 19, 2015 [2 favorites]

ah, nevermind, I think I understand the timeline now. Your friend wasn't pregnant when she ate the berries 4 weeks ago, but thinks she got pregnant during the incubation period. No need to worry - assuming she is immune to hep A from her vaccine, it cannot be incubating in her body.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 8:49 PM on February 19, 2015

1. The mother cannot carry the virus so there is nothing for the foetus to catch.

2. I'm fairly sure the foetus is not immunised in the sense that, once born, it could catch hep A.

3. Unless you have been pasting the inside of the freezer with crushed up, thawed berries that have been directly touching other food, no, just throw the packet out. You basically have to eat the berries to get the hep, and lots of people who did in fact eat the berries did not get the hep,so you will be okay.

Hope this helps.
posted by smoke at 9:43 PM on February 19, 2015 [1 favorite]

The CDC recommends that all children be vaccinated against Hepatitis A at 12 to 23 months, with a second shot 6 to 18 months after the first. If the mother is immunized, the baby still needs to be immunized when the time comes.

Some bacteria and viruses can get through the placenta and affect a fetus, some can't. Hepatitis viruses can't. Hepatitis B can be transmitted to the baby through the mother's bodily fluids during birth. That's why they test pregnant women for hepatitis B and give newborns a Hepatitis B vaccine. Hepatitis B and hepatitis A are two different viruses that are transmitted differently (but have similar symptoms, hence the similar names).
posted by Anne Neville at 7:45 AM on February 20, 2015

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