WEDNESDAY, Oct. 5 (HealthDay News) -- The death toll from an
outbreak of listeria first linked to tainted cantaloupes has risen
to 18, and a total of 100 people have been sickened across 20
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 Sept. 14, 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
The listeriosis-linked deaths have occurred in Colorado (5),
Kansas (2), Maryland (1), Missouri (1), Nebraska (1), New Mexico
(5), Oklahoma (1) and Texas (2), the CDC said.
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.
According to the
Wall Street Journal, the death toll from the current outbreak is on track to exceed that of the nation's worst listeria outbreak, in 1998, which was linked to hot dogs and killed 21 people while sickening 100 more.
In a news conference last Wednesday, 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
The update from the CDC marks another step in health officials'
attempts to contain listeria outbreaks over the past month. On
Friday, Alaska regulators announced that chopped romaine lettuce
shipped from California had been recalled because of concerns the
salad greens might carry the potentially fatal bacteria.
The lettuce involved in the lettuce scare comes from True Leaf
Farms, of Salinas, Calif., which was notified by the U.S. Food and
Drug Administration that the pathogen was found in a random test
sample, according to published reports.
True Leaf on Thursday announced a voluntary recall of chopped
romaine lettuce distributed in 2-pound bags by Church Brothers, LLC
in Alaska. The bags carry a use-by date of Sept. 29 and a code of
B256-46438-8. Anyone who has the questionable lettuce should
CBS News reported.
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
Although listeria tends to infect fewer people, it is typically
deadlier than other foodborne pathogens and inordinately 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.
Listeria bacteria are also particularly dangerous because they
can thrive at both room temperatures
and refrigerator temperatures.
And "the incubation period can be quite long, as little as three
days but up to two months," said Philip Alcabes, a professor in the
School of Public Health at Hunter College in New York City.
The bacterium tends to grow in soil and water. "The concern
would be that the outside of cantaloupe is contaminated [and] when
you slice into it, the knife can carry bacteria into the part that
you eat," Alcabes explained.
But animals can also carry the organism 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
"Your grandmother told you to wash fruits and vegetables. It's probably not bad advice," Alcabes said.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more on
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