Listeria Death Toll Now at 18, Possibly Still Rising

The death toll of the widely publicized listeria outbreak across the United States has risen from 13 to 18.

The death toll of the widely publicized listeria outbreak across the United States has risen from 13 to 18.

A statement released on Tuesday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirmed that 100 illnesses in 20 states have been attributed to the listeria outbreak, which was caused by cantaloupe sold by Jensen Farms in Holly, Colorado. The cantaloupes were recalled on September 14th, but the death toll may continue to rise as it can take up to two months before Listeria shows symptoms in an infected individual.

Symptoms include fever and muscle aches, usually accompanied by other gastrointestinal issues.

Another death linked to the outbreak was reported by Wyoming's state health department, but that fatality was not included in this most recent count by the CDC.

Jensen Farms reported that it shipped the infected cantaloupes to 28 states, but the FDA has confirmed illnesses in states that were not on the shipping list; the organization’s officials have stated that the product is frequently sold and resold, so there is no way of knowing all of the places the fruit went.

According to the FDA, the majority of the contaminated fruits should be out of circulation by now, as the last shipment occurred on September 10th, and a cantaloupe has a shelf life of only two weeks.

This outbreak is already the deadliest the United States has seen in over a decade.

Although listeria is one of the deadliest food-borne pathogens—one in five people who are infected by Listeria will die of the disease—the CDC reported that listeria is a rare disease that usually only infects roughly 800 people per year.

The FDA is still investigating the cause of the outbreak, according to the agency’s commissioner, Margaret Hamburg. The agency is currently investigating the farm's water supply and possible animal intrusions in order to find out how the cantaloupes became infected.

The FDA has also confirmed the presence of the illness in Alabama, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Maryland, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Texas, Virginia, West Virginia, Wisconsin, and Wyoming. Colorado has the most illnesses with 30, while Texas has 14 and New Mexico has 13.

The most deaths were reported in Colorado and New Mexico, where 5 people died in each state; other states where deaths have been confirmed are Kansas, Texas, Maryland, Missouri, Nebraska, and Oklahoma.

CDC and FDA officials have stated that no cantaloupe from Jensen Farms is safe to consume.

The CDC has an ongoing update link that provides safety information, as well as what the symptoms of Listeria are and who is at the greatest risk. For more information on the initial outbreak, see our previous article.

In a related case, 33,000 pounds of lettuce from a California farm—True Leaf Farms of Salinas—was recalled recently after the FDA discovered Listeria in one bag of the shipped product.

The bagged, chopped lettuce was shipped on September 12 and 13, and bears the box code B256-46438-8.

States affected by the recall include Alaska, Alabama, Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Illinois, Kentucky, Maryland, Minnesota, Missouri, Nevada, New York, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Tennessee and Vermont.

Stephanie Yao, a spokeswoman for the FDA, has reported that this recall is unrelated to the recall of the cantaloupes.