The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports 72 cases and 13 deaths due to listeriosis. Health officials are investigating three more deaths that they believe to be linked. Deaths have been recorded in Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, Texas, Colorado, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Maryland.
The Chicago Sun-Times is calling this the deadliest US-food outbreak in more than a decade. According to the CDC, the United States sees approximately 1,600 cases of listeriosis each year and of those cases, 260 die.
Part of the problem is that listeriosis has a lengthy incubation period; symptoms may not show up for a month after infection. This creates a challenge for epidemiologists tracking the outbreak as people will be asked to recall details such as what they ate, when they ate it and where they bought it, over a much longer period of time.
The long incubation period leads Dr. Robert Tauxe of the CDC to believe that the case and death counts will continue to rise.
Also contributing to problem is the bacteria’s ability to survive at such low temperatures, enabling it to persist in many refrigerated foods such as ice cream, raw milk, poultry, raw meats, raw produce and smoked fish.
According to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), listeriosis, caused by the gram-positive bacterium Listeria monocytogenes, can cause septicemia (a very serious and rapidly progressing bacterial infection of the blood), meningitis, encephalitis, and cervical infections in pregnant women that can complicate pregnancies or cause spontaneous abortions. Symptoms usually begin with fever, diarrhea, nausea or vomiting and then progress to more serious conditions.
Those most at risk include the elderly, people with compromised immune systems, pregnant women and newborns.