US: CDC confirms 13 dead in listeria cantaloupe outbreak
Posted: September 28th, 2011 - 6:25pm
At least 13 people are dead amid 72 sickened in 18 states in an outbreak of listeria food poisoning tied to contaminated cantaloupes, federal health officials said Tuesday.
The figures were the latest confirmed as of Monday morning, according to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report. But they may well rise in the still-widening outbreak that now ranks as the deadliest in the United States in more than a decade.
State and local health officials in Wyoming and Kansas are investigating three additional deaths that may be connected.
In 1998, an outbreak of listeria infections caused by listeria-contaminated hot dogs and deli meats killed 21 people, CDC records show.
Most of the deaths and illnesses in the outbreak tied to whole cantaloupes grown and shipped by Jensen Farms of Holly, Colo., have targeted the elderly, pointing out the lethal potential of infections from listeria monocytogenes in vulnerable populations.
"It's basically a feature of listeriosis itself. It affects people who have other counts against them," said Dr. Robert Tauxe, deputy director of the division of foodborne, waterborne and fungal infections at the CDC. "It's just a severe infection."
Victims range in age from 35 to 96 years, with an average age of 78. But most of the infections from four outbreak strains of listeria have occurred in people older than 60, the report said. CDC officials now think the illnesses began several days sooner than previously thought, with illnesses starting on or after July 31. People can become ill up to several weeks after eating food contaminated with listeria.