The Listeria outbreak being blamed on cantaloupes has now killed 23 people across more than 10 states – making it the deadliest foodborne illness outbreak in the United States in more than 25 years.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced Wednesday that 23 people have died from listeriosis – a serious infection usually caused by eating food contaminated with the bacterium Listeria monocytogenes - while another 116 have been sickened in 25 states. The latest two deaths came in Louisiana. The tainted cantaloupes derive from Jensen Farms in Holly, CO, but the fruits from that farm should be off store shelves by now. But health officials warn that the death toll may still rise, since symptoms can take up to two months to appear.
Five people each have died in New Mexico and Colorado from eating the tainted fruit, along with two people each in Kansas, Texas and now Louisiana. One has died in Indiana, Maryland, Missouri, Nebraska, New York, Oklahoma and Wyoming. One pregnant woman had a miscarriage due to the illness. Cases have also been reported in Alabama, Arkansas, California, Idaho, Illinois, Montana, North Dakota, Oregon, South Dakota, Texas, Virginia, West Virginia and Wisconsin.
Here is some information about symptoms, signs and treatment that you should know to protect yourself against Listeriosis:
- The disease primarily affects older adults, pregnant women, newborns, and adults with weakened immune systems
- Symptoms include fever and muscle aches, sometimes preceded by diarrhea or other gastrointestinal symptoms, as well as headache, stiff neck, confusion, loss of balance, and convulsions. Pregnant women can experience only a mild, flu-like illness, but infections can lead to miscarriage, stillbirth, premature delivery, or life-threatening infection of the newborn.
- Reducing your risk of contracting Listeria is similar to those steps you would take to prevent salmonella: Rinse raw produce thoroughly, scrubbing when necessary; dry produce with a clean cloth; separate uncooked meats and poultry from vegetables, cooked foods, and ready-to-eat foods; wash hands, knives, counter tops, and cutting boards after handling and preparing uncooked foods; keep your refrigerator at 40°F or lower and the freezer 0°F or lower; clean up all spills in your refrigerator right away, especially juices from hot dog and lunch meat packages, raw meat, and raw poultry; cook meat and poultry thoroughly; use precooked or ready-to-eat foods as soon as you can, don’t keep beyond the use-by date.
- Listeriosis is treated with antibiotics.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) offers these guidelines for safely consuming melons:
- Wash hands with warm water and soap for at least 20 seconds before and after handling any whole melon, such as cantaloupe, watermelon, or honeydew.
- Scrub the surface of melons with a clean produce brush and dry them with a clean cloth or paper towel before cutting.
- Promptly consume cut melon or refrigerate promptly. Keep your cut melon refrigerated at, or less than 40 degrees F (32-34 degrees F is best), for no more than 7 days.
- Discard cut melons left at room temperature for more than 4 hours.
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