In its 11th update on the multistate outbreak of listeriosis linked to contaminated cantaloupes from Jensen Farms in Colorado, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta Tuesday reported that 25 of the 123 people infected have lost their lives.
The fatality rate is just under 21 percent.
Colorado and New York state reported the 24th and 25th victims to die in the deadliest foodborne illness outbreak experienced in the U.S. in 25 years. Only one other U.S. outbreak has killed more people — in 1985 soft cheese contaminated with Listeria caused 29 deaths out of 142 illnesses.
Listeria outbreaks are known for their high fatality rates. Three years ago in Canada, 40 percent of those infected from eating ready-to-eat meats contaminated with Listeria did not survive.
In addition to reporting two more deaths, CDC added seven confirmed cases to the outbreak toll. A woman from suburban Philadelphia hospitalized in early September was the first confirmed listeriosis patient in Pennsylvania, making it the 26th state to report an outbreak-related case.
Twelve states have reported one or more of the 25 deaths recorded to date, and a pregnant northwest Iowa woman miscarried as a result of her Listeria infection.
The confirmed cases so far since July 31:
Alabama: 1 illness
Arkansas: 1 illness
California: 2 illnesses
Colorado: 36 illnesses, 6 deaths
Idaho: 1 illness
Illinois: 2 illnesses
Indiana: 3 illnesses, 1 death
Iowa: 1 illness
Kansas: 7 illnesses, 2 deaths
Louisiana: 2 illnesses, 2 deaths
Maryland: 1 illness, 1 death
Missouri: 4 illnesses, 1 death
Montana: 1 illness
Nebraska: 6 illnesses, 1 death
New Mexico: 13 illnesses, 5 deaths
New York: 2 illnesses, 2 deaths
North Dakota: 1 illness
Oklahoma: 11 illnesses, 1 death
Oregon: 1 illness
Pennsylvania: 1 illness
South Dakota: 1 illness
Texas: 18 illnesses, 2 deaths
Virginia: 1 illness
West Virginia: 1 illness
Wisconsin: 2 illnesses
Wyoming: 3 illnesses, 1 death
This is the first time that cantaloupes have been implicated in an outbreak of Listeria illnesses. Deli meats, hot dogs and Mexican style soft cheeses are the more common carriers of Listeria. But Listeria-tainted fresh produce has turned up before. A 2009 Listeria involved sprouts and a 2010 Listeria outbreak was linked to celery.
Jensen Farms recalled at least 1.5 million cantaloupes — all that it shipped to 24 states between July 29 and Sept. 10 — after source tracing pointed to their products. Strains of Listeria from the outbreak were found on the equipment and cantaloupes at the Jensen Farms packing facility in Granada, CO.
CDC says the outbreak victims range in age from one to 96 years of age, but most are over 60 and the median age is 78. CDC has collected information on 120 victims and said of those, 118 required hospitalization. It did not report the number who remain under hospital care.
Tuesday’s update was current as of 9 a.m. Eastern time on Oct. 17. Illnesses with onsets after Sept. 23 might not be included because of the time it takes between when a person becomes ill and when the case is reported to state health officials.
CDC continues to warn the public not to eat “Rocky Ford” brand cantaloupes from Jensen Farms, but it is unlikely any of the melons remain in homes at this point.
However, microbiologist Phyllis Entis, author of eFoodAlert, notes that even though the recalled cantaloupes are no longer in household refrigerators, the Listeria monocytogenes they carried may still be lingering. Juice from a cut cantaloupe may have dripped onto a refrigerator shelf and contaminated the refrigerator. Listeria easily grows in the cold and could then cross-contaminate other ready-to-eat items.
Also, CDC notes that because Listeria can have an incubation period lasting just over two months, there may be additional cases of illness. Incubation is the time between exposure to the pathogen and when one begins experiencing symptoms.
The CDC once again said cantaloupes that are known to not have come from Jensen Farms are safe to eat.
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