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1 Dead, 14 Hospitalized in 4 States; Nationwide Alert Over Colorado Cantaloupe

Sept. 13, 2011 -- Cantaloupe from the Rocky Ford region of Colorado may carry deadly listeria bacteria, the CDC warns.

So far the outbreak has caused 15 hospitalizations -- including one death -- in four states: Colorado (11 cases), Nebraska (one case), Oklahoma (one case), and Texas (two cases).

The CDC has issued a nationwide warning for consumers to avoid fruit "marketed as cantaloupes harvested in the Rocky Ford region."

Listeria monocytogenes bacteria cause a disease called listeriosis. Listeriosis primarily affects older adults, pregnant women, newborns, and people with a weakened immune system. It also affects people with cancer, diabetes, alcoholism, liver disease, or kidney disease.

In the current outbreak from cantaloupe, all illnesses began after Aug. 15. Cases after Aug. 26 might not yet be reported.

The 15 people infected during this outbreak range in age from 38 to 96. Most are over age 60; 73% are female.

Lab tests have identified the outbreak strain of listeria in cantaloupe collected from grocery stores and from the home of a case patient. Investigations show the cantaloupes came from the Rocky Ford region of Colorado. The CDC is trying to determine a more specific source of contamination.

Many people who are exposed to the disease may not have symptoms. Severe symptoms indicate the bacteria have escaped the digestive tract and are spreading throughout the body. Listeriosis often results in fatal meningitis or encephalitis. Of the estimated 1,600 U.S. cases of listeriosis each year, there are 260 deaths.

Listeriosis Symptoms

Listeriosis usually begins with diarrhea or other intestinal symptoms. Patients soon develop fever and muscle aches. What happens next depends on a person's risk factors:

  • While pregnant women usually get a mild flu-like illness, listeria infection can cause miscarriage, stillbirth, premature delivery, or fatal infection of the newborn.
  • Other adults may develop headache, stiff neck, mental confusion, loss of balance, and convulsions.

Foods typically linked to listeriosis are deli meats, hot dogs, and soft cheeses made with unpasteurized milk. Produce is less often linked to outbreaks, although listeria occurs in soil and water. Listeria is killed by cooking, but it can grow and multiply in refrigerators.

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