Doctors with the San Diego County health department have recorded one miscarriage, which occurred Tuesday, and a death linked to contaminated Jalisco brand cheese. The tainted cheese has been connected to as many as 46 deaths statewide.
A pregnant Ramona woman was seen by physicians at UC San Diego Medical Center because she had been feeling ill for a few days, said Dr. Michele S. Ginsberg, an epidemiologist with the San Diego Department of Health Services, who is studying the two Jalisco-related deaths.
Tests confirmed that the fetus, in its 14th to 18th week of development, was infected with the Listeria monocytogenes bacteria, which is present in the contaminated cheese, Ginsberg said.
The Ramona woman may have eaten the cheese as long as three weeks ago, since that is the incubation period for Listeria, said Dr. Donald G. Ramras, San Diego County public health officer.
County health officials had earlier linked the death of a newborn infant May 14 to Jalisco-brand cheese. The premature infant of a San Ysidro woman died three minutes after it was born, Ramras said. The woman told doctors she had eaten Jalisco brand cheese during her pregnancy.
Ramras said county health officials spent June 20 through 24 visiting all the licensed markets, delicatessens and Mexican restaurants in the county. "Of those 5,362 establishment, even with all this publicity, we still found nine places that had the cheese," he said.
The county has also notified the Spanish-language press about the contaminated cheese. "With 2 million people in the county, some households may still have it, but hopefully they are without it," Ramras said.
Thirteen cases of listeriosis have been reported in the county, he said. Six of the people said they had eaten Jalisco brand cheese, six said they had not, and one person cannot remember, Ramras said.
Some studies say that at any one time 5% of the adult population may be carrying the Listeria bacteria, Ramras said, but most adults who are infected never get sick.
"You have a certain level of Listeria infection occurring. A lot of people on top of that have been eating the contaminated cheese. Listeria is usually not found in cheese, and you're not usually dosing your bodies with it," he said.
The bacteria strikes pregnant women and the elderly because they have weakened immunity systems, he said. People who are going through chemotherapy also are more likely to become infected, he said.
Officials announced a nationwide recall of several kinds of Jalisco brand cheese after 29 deaths in the Los Angeles area were linked to eating the cheese. Unpasteurized milk that seeped into the cheese while it was being processed at the factory may be the reason for the contamination, authorities now believe.
It was disclosed Friday that state auditors have been ordered into six California cheese-processing plants to examine milk purchasing and pasteurization records.
"All of the plants now will have those records checked, and they will then be forwarded to the (Los Angeles County) district attorney, wherever applicable," state Food and Agriculture Department spokeswoman Jan Wessell said in Sacramento.
The move came after an audit at Jalisco Mexican Products Inc. determined that between April 1 and June 12 the amount of unpasteurized milk received at the company's Artesia plant totaled nearly 700,000 pounds more than the amount of milk that went through its pasteurizing machine.
Dist. Atty. Ira Reiner said the discrepancies indicate Jalisco employees deliberately mixed unpasteurized milk in with their cheeses. He said a conspiracy may have existed inside the company to sell adulterated dairy products to the public.
Reiner's office opened a criminal probe of Jalisco on Tuesday night, seizing 20 boxes of records. Prosecutors were busy Friday examining the documents.
The state Food and Agriculture Department plans to audit Cacique, Ariza Cheese Co. in Paramount; Green Valley Foods in Barstow; Lagunas Cheese Co. in Sacramento, and Marquez Bros. Mexican Imports and Ventura Imports in San Jose.
"They called and said they were coming in this weekend and to have all my milk bills and pasteurization charts available," said Ausencio Ariza Jr., vice president of Ariza Cheese Co. "I have no problems. I have nothing to hide."