25 Deaths Now Blamed on Cantaloupe-Linked Listeria Outbreak

WEDNESDAY Oct. 19, 2011 -- The death toll from the listeria outbreak first linked to tainted cantaloupes has risen to 25, and a total of 123 people have been sickened across 26 states, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported late Tuesday.

The agency said that even though the cantaloupes in question were recalled in mid-September, more cases might still emerge since Listeria monocytogenes infection has a long lag time between diagnosis and laboratory confirmation "and also because up to two months can elapse between eating contaminated food and developing listerosis."

The listeriosis-linked deaths have occurred in Colorado (6), Indiana (1), Kansas (2), Louisiana (2), Maryland (1), Missouri (1), Nebraska (1), New Mexico (5), New York (2), Oklahoma (1), Texas (2) and Wyoming (1). The people who have died ranged in age from 48 to 96, the CDC said.

One pregnant woman who contracted the illness had a miscarriage, the CDC said.

Pennsylvania has reported its first case of infection, the agency said Tuesday.

On Sept. 14, the agency announced that Jensen Farms, of Granada, Colo., had voluntarily recalled its Rocky Ford-brand cantaloupes and the produce is "now off store shelves." Consumers -- especially older adults, people with weakened immune systems and pregnant women -- should discard this brand of cantaloupe if it is in their refrigerator, the agency said. Other brands of cantaloupe are safe to consume, however.

In a news conference recently, CDC director Dr. Thomas R. Frieden called the cantaloupe-linked outbreak "the deadliest outbreak of a foodborne disease that we've identified in more than a decade."

Unlike other bacteria, listeria can flourish in colder temperatures. So, "if you've got a contaminated cantaloupe in your refrigerator, the listeria will continue to grow," Frieden said. "That's one of the reasons why we may see continued cases from cantaloupe already in people's refrigerators in the days and weeks ahead."

Although listeria tends to infect fewer people, it is typically deadlier than other foodborne germs and disproportionately affects the elderly, newborns, pregnant women and anyone with a weakened immune system. People can develop meningitis from the organism, but many people only experience milder diarrhea.

According to the CDC, some 1,600 cases are reported annually in the United States, resulting in 260 deaths.

The bacterium tends to grow in soil and water. But animals can also carry the germ and pass it on to humans through meats, dairy products and other foods of animal origins. Most listeria outbreaks are from animal products, not produce, the CDC said.

More information

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more on listeria.

Posted: October 2011


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