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Listeria Outbreak Is Deadliest in More Than a Decade
Date:9/28/2011

By Amanda Gardner
HealthDay Reporter

WEDNESDAY, Sept. 28 (HealthDay News) -- The ongoing outbreak of food-borne illness connected to listeria-tainted cantaloupes has now infected 72 people in 18 states and claimed 13 lives, U.S. health officials said Wednesday, making it the deadliest such outbreak in more than a decade.

The deaths have occurred in eight states, including two in Colorado, one in Kansas, one in Maryland, one in Missouri, one in Nebraska, four in New Mexico, one in Oklahoma, and two in Texas, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

But the toll is expected to rise, as investigators continue to probe the causes of additional deaths.

"At this point we have definitively confirmed 72 cases and 13 deaths with laboratory-confirmed listeria, including two pregnant women who, so far as we know, are doing OK, both in terms of their own outcome and their fetus," CDC Director Dr. Thomas R. Frieden said at an afternoon news conference.

"This is the deadliest outbreak of a food-borne disease that we've identified in more than a decade," he added, and it's the 12th one this year.

Unlike other bacteria, listeria can flourish in colder temperatures. So, "if you've got a contaminated cantaloupe in your refrigerator, the listeria will continue to grow," Frieden said. "That's one of the reasons why we may see continued cases from cantaloupe already in people's refrigerators in the days and weeks ahead."

Added Dr. Margaret Hamburg, commissioner of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, "We will see more cases likely through October because patients can develop this disease up to two months after eating contaminated food."

Although listeria tends to infect fewer people, it is typically deadlier than other food-borne pathogens and inordinately affects the elderly, newborns, pregnant women and anyone with a weakened immune system. People can develop meningitis from the
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