Poison Fruit

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LOS ANGELES: News that more than a million pounds of frozen strawberries shipped to stores and school lunch programs might be contaminated with hepatitis A sent parents and school officials scrambling to inoculate children. School and health officials in six states fear that thousands of students may have been exposed to a virus that, while not as dangerous as other forms of hepatitis, can cause mild liver infections. The strawberries were grown in Mexico and processed by Andrew and Williamson Sales of San Diego last spring. As A&W president Fred Williamson resigned Wednesday, Mexican agricultural officials went into damage-control mode, arguing that the berries were probably contaminated during processing and shipping. The only reported illnesses so far have occurred in Michigan, where 151 students and a teacher became sick after eating the fruit last week. Schools in California, Arizona, Georgia, Iowa and Tennessee, also received the bad strawberries. Health officials in Los Angeles said up to 9,000 students and teachers who recently ate the berries would be offered protective gamma globulin shots, a treatment that is usually effective up to two weeks after exposure. The outbreak came during peak growing season in California, where 80 percent of the U.S. strawberry crop is grown, causing some worried suppliers to cancel orders. One grower said he lost $12,700 in canceled orders Wednesday.