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Montana Says Listeria Outbreak Victim’s Death Was Due to His Infection

The unofficial death count of last year’s Listeria outbreak linked to cantaloupes rose from 32 to 33 Wednesday as the Montana Department of Health confirmed that the death of an outbreak victim there was a result of his Listeria infection.

The victim, a 75-year-old Bozeman, Montana man who died in January, was only recently recognized as a victim of the outbreak. Food Safety News reported about the possible link. The connection was first made when PulseNet discovered that a clinical sample of Listeria from the man’s stool was indistinguishable from a rare genetic fingerprint of Listeria found on a cantaloupe from an outbreak victim’s home. PulseNet compares pathogen samples across the U.S. using a DNA mapping technique called pulsed field gel electrophoresis, or PFGE.

Earlier this month, CDC added the Montana man to the outbreak victims count, bringing the total to 147, but has not yet included him in the death count. One other case in Montana has been linked to the outbreak.

“We finished the investigation July 18 and the CDC is adding him to the death toll,” Job Ebelt, a spokesman for the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services told The Packer. However, CDC told Food Safety News that it has not yet officially counted the man’s death as one of those that resulted from outbreak, and is currently only counting him as a victim.

“We’re saying at least 30 deaths and one miscarriage,” confirmed Lola Russel, a spokeswoman for the CDC. “The death count is something that’s based on us reviewing death certificates, and that’s a process. Just because a state counts it does not mean we’re increasing that number right then,” she said.

The statistic of 30 deaths was the number reported in the CDC’s final outbreak report, issued on December 18, 2011, but one victim, a 97-year-old Kansas City man died 10 days later of complications from his infection. Then in January Sharon Jones, died from complications of  stage IV breast cancer and listeriosis, the disease caused by a Listeria infection, bringing the unofficial death toll to 32. That number went up again by one when the Montana man’s death was recognized to be from Listeria.

CDC has searched its PulseNet database to see whether any other illnesses match the newly identified fifth strain connected to this outbreak, but “no other illnesses appeared,” says Russel.

Editor’s note: An earlier version of this article stated that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had officially recognized that the man’s death was linked to the outbreak and had raised its death count to 33, as reported by the Packer. This information was later denied by CDC. 

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