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Tainted cantaloupes: How long will Listeria outbreak continue?

September 28, 2011|By Amina Khan, Los Angeles Times / for the Booster Shots blog
  • Jensen Farms in Colorado has issued a recall of cantaloupe following a Listeria outbreak that has killed at least 13 people, sickened 72 and spread to several states.
Jensen Farms in Colorado has issued a recall of cantaloupe following a Listeria… (Hyoung Chan/The Denver…)

As the death toll from a multistate Listeria outbreak linked to contaminated cantaloupes rose to 13 this week, making it the deadliest in a decade, Food and Drug Administration officials have said the number of cases may rise in coming weeks.

"We are seeing more illnesses -- that's the nature of listeriosis," FDA Commissioner Dr. Margaret Hamburg said in a briefing Wednesday. "And we will see more cases ... likely through October."

Four strains of Listeria monocytogenes have infected a total of 72 people in 18 states, according to figures released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The bacterial disease, which can cause symptoms from gastrointestinal issues to convulsions, has been linked to Rocky Ford-brand whole cantaloupes from Jensen Farms in Colorado that have since been recalled. It is particularly dangerous for pregnant mothers, older adults and those with compromised immune systems, reporter Eryn Brown explains.

Thus far, the number of cases has been growing, and the official number of dead jumped from four last week to 13 this week.

As for how long the outbreak may continue, the FDA's reported expectation that infections will continue through October makes sense. The ailment may not show up until two months after eating contaminated fruit, meat or other food, the CDC explains.

And it may be a matter of time before more infections show up in other states. New Jersey, which has not reported infections, has reportedly received shipments of tainted melons.

For information on reducing your risk of infection, visit the CDC page on listeriosis.

Follow me on Twitter @LAT_aminakhan.

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