Cantaloupe Listeria Toll Mounts

The cantaloupe <"">Listeria outbreak death toll has risen to four, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The numbers of those who have died after consuming contaminated cantaloupe could soon rise to six.

The Associated Press (AP) reports that one death each was reported in Colorado and Oklahoma and two more have been confirmed in New Mexico; however, New Mexico Department of Health epidemiologist, Chad Smelser, said two more deaths there could be soon linked to the Listeria monocytogenes outbreak that has reportedly sickened 35 people in 10 states.

Illnesses have been reported in California, Colorado, Illinois, Indiana, Montana, Nebraska, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Texas, and West Virginia. Twelve illnesses have been reported in Colorado, which has the most sicknesses, said the AP; Oklahoma reported six and New Mexico, five.

The whole cantaloupes involved were grown at Jensen Farms; 300,000 cases were shipped between July 29th and September 10th, 2011 to Illinois, Wyoming, Tennessee, Utah, Texas, Colorado, Minnesota, Kansas, New Mexico, North Carolina, Missouri, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Arizona, New Jersey, New York, and Pennsylvania. Jensen Farms issued a recall this week and Amy Philpott, spokeswoman for Jensen Farms, confirmed that one of its Rocky Ford cantaloupes tested positive for Listeria.

As we mentioned yesterday, the Listeria outbreak linked to Colorado cantaloupes has led to at least one lawsuit; more are expected. Tammy and Charles Palmer allege the cantaloupe Charles (71) ate tested positive for Listeria, said The New York Daily News, citing the lawsuit. Palmer became ill two weeks ago—two weeks after consuming the fruit—and was rushed to the hospital paralyzed and unable to speak, according to ABC News. “He couldn’t talk or anything so that’s when I called 911,” his wife, Tammy, said, wrote The Daily News. Charles remains hospitalized on a strong antibiotic regimen. “The doctors told me it was Listeria. The health department told me that it was the cantaloupe,” Tammy told 7News.

According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) it found Listeria on samples taken from Jensen Farms in Holly, Colorado, including on Jensen Farms’ cantaloupe sampled from a Denver-area store and from equipment and cantaloupe at the farm’s packing facility, said the AP. Tests confirmed a match between samples taken and the disease strain, added the AP.

Smelser pointed out that the incubation period for the Listeria pathogen can be up to one month, noting that Listeria can reproduce at room and refrigerator temperatures, which is different than other pathogens.

Listeriosis infection is a potentially fatal infection that can cause high fever, severe headache, neck stiffness, abdominal cramps and pain, diarrhea, and nausea, especially in those with weakened immune systems, infants, and the elderly. Vulnerable populations, such as the developing fetus, can suffer serious central nervous system problems and the infection can prompt premature births, or the death of the fetus via miscarriages and stillbirths; pregnant women are 20 times likelier to become infected. Listeriosis can also lead to hearing loss or brain damage in newborns, and can prompt neurological effects and cardio respiratory failure in adults.

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