Cantaloupes Carrying Listeria Cause Outbreak, 13 Deaths

According to the CDC, 72 people across 18 states in the US have been infected with Listeria carried by cantaloupes, resulting in 13 deaths thus far.

According to the CDC’s latest update, 72 people across 18 states in the US have been infected with Listeria carried by cantaloupes, resulting in 13 deaths thus far.

This outbreak of Listeria may be one of the deadliest in recent history, the CDC reported.

Listeria, unlike most bacteria, has the ability to breed at room temperature, and even refrigerator temperatures. Symptoms of the disease include fever and muscle aches, sometimes leaving victims in such severe pain they are unable to move on their own.

Already, the death toll from this outbreak exceeds the overall death toll from the widely publicized 2009 salmonella outbreak caused by peanuts, which resulted in the deaths of nine people.

Three additional deaths in New Mexico, Kansas, and Wyoming are currently under investigation by officials. If proven to be connected to the Listeria laced cantaloupes, the death toll could increase to 16.

The median age of individuals suffering from the Listeria outbreak is 78; the CDC reported that one in five who contract the disease could die.

Generally, Listeria infects the elderly, pregnant women, and other individuals with weakened immune systems. According to the CDC, however, this specific strain of the disease is not frequently connected to the strain which sickens pregnant women.

As symptoms for Listeria can take up to four week to appear, the toll will most likely rise even further over the course of the next few weeks.

"That long incubation period is a real problem," said Dr Robert Tauxe, deputy director of the division of foodborne, waterborne and environmental diseases of the CDC. "People who ate a contaminated food two weeks ago or even a week ago could still be falling sick weeks later."

So far, the 18 states which have reported illnesses are California, Colorado, Florida, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Maryland, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Texas, Virginia, West Virginia, Wisconsin, and Wyoming.

The largest reports of Listeria came from Colorado, where 15 illnesses were reported; Texas came in second with 14 reported illnesses and New Mexico with 10.

Earlier this month, "Rocky Ford" cantaloupes from Jensen Farms in Holly, Colorado, were recalled after state health officials discovered traces of Listeria in cantaloupes taken from Colorado grocery stores, as well as in one victim's place of residence.

Strains of the disease matching those found in the cantaloupes were also found on equipment at a local packing facility.

The disease carrying cantaloupes were shipped between July 29 and Sept. 10 to Arkansas, Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Illinois, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia, and Wyoming.

While not all of the recalled and possibly infected cantaloupes are labeled with a sticker, the FDA reported that some may bear the label of "Colorado Grown," "Distributed by Frontera Produce," "Jensenfarms.com" or "Sweet Rocky Fords."

Officials strongly urged anyone who has recalled cantaloupes to throw them away immediately and wash the surface they touched.

The CDC offers more information on Listeria on their webpage.