Listeria in Cantaloupes: Deadliest Outbreak in a Decade
At Least 13 People Have Died From Cantaloupes Tainted With Listeria Bacteria
Listeriosis, the illness caused by listeria bacteria, typically strikes vulnerable people, like the elderly, pregnant women, and those with weakened immune systems.
Infection from listeria bacteria starts in the stomach and intestines where it may cause diarrhea and other gastrointestinal symptoms. If it spreads beyond the gut, listeriosis causes flu-like symptoms including fever and muscle aches, headache, stiff neck, loss of balance, and convulsions.
Officials say that while states reacted swiftly to contain the outbreak, the source of the contamination is still largely a mystery.
"This is the first time we have seen listeria contamination in whole cantaloupes, and we're working very hard to determine how this happened," says FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg, MD.
Though it's the first time listeria has contaminated cantaloupes, it's not the first time the melons have made people sick.
Officials say 10 other outbreaks of food-borne illnesses in the last decade have been tied to cantaloupes. In seven of those outbreaks, the melons were tainted with salmonella. In three, they carried norovirus.
"It's still a good thing to eat fresh fruits and vegetables, and we encourage people to do that," Frieden said. "It's a good thing to wash them before you eat them and to wash your hands after handling food."
Listeria Hot Spots
So far, illnesses have been reported in 18 states in the West and Midwest.
Colorado and New Mexico have been hit the hardest. To date, 15 people have fallen ill in Colorado and two have died in that state. In New Mexico, 10 have gotten sick and four have died.
Other states reporting illnesses linked to the outbreak, according to the CDC:
- California (1 illness)
- Florida (1)
- Illinois (1)
- Indiana (2)
- Kansas (5)
- Maryland (1)
- Missouri (1)
- Montana (1)
- Nebraska (6)
- North Dakota (1)
- Oklahoma (8)
- Texas (14)
- Virginia (1)
- West Virginia (1)
- Wisconsin (2)
- Wyoming (1)