Two people have died in a Listeria outbreak in Italy that could be linked to cheese.

Italian officials reported 33 people have been affected and two deaths are part of the outbreak. Asiago Pressato cheese is one line of inquiry as investigators try and find the source.

An Italian National Institute of Health (ISS) spokesman told Food Safety News the outbreak investigation was at an early stage when asked for details.

“The Ministry of Health (Ministero della Salute), along with the ISS, the IZS, and all the regional authorities are coordinating the investigation, collecting all the information about the cases and the potential sources of exposure. The research about the epidemiological aspects and the genomic correlations is ongoing,” he said.

The spokesman added the cheese was used as part of a recipe with many more ingredients that are also being investigated as the outbreak source.

The Istituto Zooprofilattico Sperimentale (IZS) is made up of 10 institutes across the country and is involved in diagnostic activities, epidemiological surveillance, research, and training linked to areas including disease transmissible and food safety.

In 2020, 224 strains of Listeria monocytogenes from 15 of the 20 Italian regions were sent to the ISS.

Italy recorded three outbreaks and 147 listeriosis cases in 2020 as opposed to 202 cases in 2019, according to the European Union One Health Zoonoses report.

About Listeria infections
Food contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes may not look or smell spoiled but can still cause serious and sometimes life-threatening infections. Anyone who has developed symptoms of Listeria infection should seek medical treatment and tell their doctors about the possible Listeria exposure.

People should monitor themselves for food poisoning symptoms during the coming weeks because it can take up to 70 days after exposure to Listeria for symptoms of listeriosis to develop. 

Symptoms of Listeria infection can include vomiting, nausea, persistent fever, muscle aches, severe headache, and neck stiffness. Specific laboratory tests are required to diagnose Listeria infections, which can mimic other illnesses. 

Pregnant women, the elderly, young children, and people such as cancer patients who have weakened immune systems are particularly at risk of serious illnesses, life-threatening infections, and other complications. Although infected pregnant women may experience only mild, flu-like symptoms, their infections can lead to premature delivery, infection of the newborn, or even stillbirth.

(To sign up for a free subscription to Food Safety News, click here.)