One person in Missouri has died as a result of eating listeria contaminated cantaloupe, and the Centers for Disease Control is expecting reports of illnesses and deaths to climb. Director of the CDC Dr. Thomas Frieden says this is the deadliest food-borne illness outbreak in more than a decade. (The second deadliest was when several brands of peanut butter were found to be contaminated with salmonella in 2009.)
Frieden says the contamination has been traced to only one producer — Jensen Farms in Colorado, and a recall was issued more than two weeks ago. He says the contaminated melons should be on the verge of expiring now, but people can sometimes become sick from the bacteria even more than a month from ingesting.
Frieden says cantaloupe from anywhere but Jensen Farms is safe to eat, but if in doubt, throw it out.
The Centers for Disease Control has confirmed 72 cases of listeria-linked illnesses and 13 deaths — one of those deaths being in Missouri. Nearly all of those who died were elderly, including the victim in Missouri.
Frieden all cantaloupe from Jensen Farms has been recalled and it is the end of the melon-growing season, so none should be in distribution.
Listeria is a rare disease that causes high fever and diarrhea — the disease can crop up as much as a month or more after consuming. One reason the disease is so deadly is because the bacteria can travel from the gastrointestinal tract and attack muscle tissue or the spinal cord, leading to meningitis and other severe illnesses.
The agency says that four people have died in New Mexico, two in Colorado, two in Texas, and one each in Kansas, Maryland, Missouri, Nebraska and Oklahoma.
Pregnant women are 20 times as likely as other healthy adults to come down with a severe infection, according to the CDC, which can result in stillbirths and miscarriages.
Since the CDC began regularly tracking outbreaks in the early 1970s, the deadliest outbreak was in 1985, when listeria-contaminated Mexican-style fresh cheese swept through California. Some 52 deaths were documented, but officials say the number could have been as high as 84.
Another listeria outbreak in 1998 and 1999 was linked to hot dogs and delic meats, which resulted in 14 to 21 fatalities.
The CDC says it can take up to two months or more for a person exposed to the bacteria to fall ill, making it difficult to identify which foods they consumed carried the pathogen.