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Case Count from Cantaloupe Outbreak Officially Rises to 147

With the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention linking the Listeria illness, but not yet the death, of a 75-year-old Montana man to last year’s Listeria outbreak tied to Colorado cantaloupes, a CDC official has told Food Safety News that the case count has risen from 146 to 147.  This is the first additional case the CDC has counted since its final outbreak update on December 8, 2011.

Whether the agency will include the man’s death among the official count of 32 deaths which was earlier reported by the Denver Post, however, remains to be determined until health officials in Montana investigate his infection and other medical complications, according to Benjamin Silk, CDC epidemiologist.

“The high number of deaths associated with this outbreak have caused them to be a focal point, but it’s hard to say whether an infection caused death when it happens weeks or months after infection, especially in elderly victims,” Silk said. “The medical risk factors that lead to susceptibility for Listeria infection can also independently be linked to risk of death.”

The outbreak occurred in August and September of 2011, sickening and killing victims in 28 states. Until now, officials had only counted one other illness in Montana.

The new official case count by state is now as follows:

Alabama (1), Arkansas (1), California (4), Colorado (40), Idaho (2), Illinois (4), Indiana (3), Iowa (1), Kansas (11), Louisiana (2), Maryland (1), Missouri (7), Montana (2), Nebraska (6), Nevada (1), New Mexico (15), New York (2), North Dakota (2), Oklahoma (12), Oregon (1), Pennsylvania (1), South Dakota (1), Texas (18), Utah (1), Virginia (1), West Virginia (1), Wisconsin (2) and Wyoming (4).

The Montana man’s illness was not linked to the cantaloupe outbreak until sometime after June 18, 2012, when genetic samples from a Listeria-contaminated cantaloupe found in the refrigerator of another ill victim from Colorado was uploaded to PulseNet, a national foodborne pathogen tracking network operated by the CDC.

“This situation is yet another example of what a revolution PulseNet has been for outbreak investigations,” Silk said. “It’s been a revolution in the sense that we can now instantly compare illnesses separated by geography and time — it just wasn’t possible before.”

Yesterday, Food Safety News reported the story of how this death was connected to the Listeria-cantaloupe outbreak. Read that report here.

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