Student Well-Being

Hepatitis Outbreak Spurs Inoculations in 5 States

By Jessica Portner — April 16, 1997 3 min read

Education and health officials in five states inoculated thousands of students and school staff members last week after investigations revealed that frozen strawberries served in school lunches came from the same lot that spurred an outbreak of hepatitis A in Michigan schools.

U.S. Department of Agriculture officials announced earlier this month that a batch of tainted strawberries responsible for more than 150 cases of hepatitis A among students and school workers in Michigan had been dispatched to schools in Arizona, California, Georgia, Iowa, and Tennessee as part of the agency’s school lunch program.

So far, only Michigan residents are known to have been exposed to the highly contagious liver disease. (“Hepatitis Scare Spurs Administrators Into Action,” April 9, 1997.)

To offset a situation that could have led to widespread panic among parents and students, state health departments and school districts quickly set up emergency hepatitis A hot lines and spread the word through local newspapers and fliers about where and when to get children inoculated.

Officials in Georgia mounted a mass inoculation campaign last week, administering more than 5,000 gamma-globulin injections to students and school personnel who may have consumed the tainted strawberries.

In an elementary school in Camden County, Ga., 250 students--three-fourths of the student body--who ate strawberry fruit cups at the end of March lined up for their injections last week.

Camden school officials had to act quickly because gamma globulin is only effective for 14 days after exposure and the entire district was on spring break the previous week.

“It was difficult because people were spread hither and yon because of the holiday,” said Ann Proctor, the associate superintendent of the 9,000-student district. “Fortunately, it worked out time-wise.”

Officials in the Los Angeles school district also promptly responded to the potential health crisis and issued shots to 8,400 students and staff members in 17 schools who may have been exposed to the virus after eating the fruit cups in their midday meals.

“Its been running amazingly smoothly,” said Pat Spencer, a spokesman for California’s largest, and only, district to receive the questionable fruit.

California health department officials estimate the total cost of the 9,000 shots at about $30,000.

Andrew & Williamson, the San Diego packing company that supplied the berries, said last week that it would pick up the tab for all inoculations related to the outbreak. So far, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has delivered 30,000 doses of gamma globulin to schools across the country.

Knock on Wood

While states like California and Georgia rushed to immunize their school populations, other states decided against a widespread vaccination campaign. Iowa health officials determined that the risk of infection was too low and the potential risks serious enough to avoid a massive public health response.

“Anytime you do an inoculation, there’s a very slight risk from complications, so we didn’t want to do it here,” Kevin Teale, the spokesman for the Iowa health department, said. About 100 schools in Iowa served the suspect berries to students in January. No one has become sick yet. The CDC says that individuals with hepatitis A often begin to show symptoms of nausea, fatigue, and loss of appetite within three to six weeks. “Right now, it’s fingers crossed, knock on wood,” Mr. Teale said.

Many school officials are still waiting for government assurances on the integrity of the school meals program. “We’ll be interested in hearing what kinds of guarantees we can expect on [the USDA’s] other products,” said Mr. Spencer. USDA and CDC officials are trying to pinpoint where the virus might have entered the school food supply. The infection is spread orally or through human waste, often by people with poor hygiene who handle food.

Contamination could have occurred in the growing, storing, or packing of the product that was shipped from Mexico to the California producer, CDC officials said. They have ruled out school-based food handlers as the contamination source.

Related Tags:


School & District Management Webinar What's Ahead for Hybrid Learning: Putting Best Practices in Motion
It’s safe to say hybrid learning—a mix of in-person and remote instruction that evolved quickly during the pandemic—is probably here to stay in K-12 education to some extent. That is the case even though increasing
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Mathematics Webinar
Building Equitable Systems: Moving Math From Gatekeeper to Opportunity Gateway
The importance of disrupting traditional American math practices and adopting high-quality math curriculum continues to be essential for changing the trajectory of historically under-resourced schools. Building systems around high-quality math curriculum also is necessary to
Content provided by Partnership for L.A. Schools
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Student Well-Being Webinar
Measuring & Supporting Student Well-Being: A Researcher and District Leader Roundtable
Students’ social-emotional well-being matters. The positive and negative emotions students feel are essential characteristics of their psychology, indicators of their well-being, and mediators of their success in school and life. Supportive relationships with peers, school
Content provided by Panorama Education

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Student Well-Being 'Growth Mindset' Linked to Higher Test Scores, Student Well-Being in Global Study
The first global study of "growth mindset" found both academic benefits and better well-being among students who think intelligence is not fixed.
4 min read
Conceptual image of growth mindset.
Student Well-Being Opinion Why Venting When You Have Problems Feels Good—and Why It Doesn’t Work
When you keep talking about what’s bothering you, it keeps the negative emotions alive. Here’s what research says to do instead.
Ethan Kross
2 min read
Images shows a stylized artistic landscape with soothing colors.
Student Well-Being What the Research Says How Does Sending a Child to School Change a Family's Risk of COVID-19?
In-person schooling that doesn't lead to outbreaks can still raise the risk of kids bringing the virus home, especially in poor families.
3 min read
On Sept. 24, 2020, distance learners are seen on a laptop held by teacher Kristen Giuliano who assists student Jane Wood, 11, in a seventh-grade social studies class at Dodd Middle School in Cheshire, Conn. A new study finds a family's risk of infection rose if they had a school-age student when schools re-started in person instruction.
Students, assisted by their teacher Kristen Giuliano, work remotely and in-person in a hybrid classroom earlier this year at Dodd Middle School in Cheshire, Conn.
Dave Zajac/Record-Journal via AP
Student Well-Being Teens Are Starting to Get Vaccinated. That's a Big Deal for Schools
Educators are now encouraging their oldest students to get the vaccine, with the hope that it will help normalize school operations.
10 min read
17-year-old cancer survivor Jordan Loughan receives a Pfizer vaccination at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta on Tuesday, March 23, 2021.
Seventeen-year-old cancer survivor Jordan Loughan receives a Pfizer vaccination for COVID-19 in Atlanta on March 23.
Curtis Compton/Atlanta Journal-Constitution via AP