The recent listeria outbreak from tainted cantaloupes has continued to receive press attention in recent weeks, now being dubbed as one of the worst food-borne illness outbreaks in American history. As of Thursday, 29 people have died from listeria, finally surpassing a 1985 outbreak in California from tainted Mexican cheese.
Contaminated melons from Colorado were initially blamed for this outbreak, but on Wednesday this information was finally confirmed by the Federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. After the 29th death occurred, the cause was successfully traced back to melons from Jensen Farm in Holly, Colorado.
As of now there have been 139 cases of listeria, compared to 142 in the 1985 outbreak. While the mortality figures from the 1985 listeriosis outbreak in California remain disputed (some say 29 dead, others say 28), this current outbreak is at least as deadly as the past one. In the previous outbreaks Mexican-style soft cheeses were tainted, such as queso fresco and cotija.
Listeria is a bacterium that results in a condition called listeriosis, which can cause lethal or disabling encephalitis and meningitis. However these conditions most often occur in older people or those with weakened immune systems. In both outbreaks listeria has caused fatal fetal infections in pregnant women. Symptoms are still being reported, mostly because symptoms can take up to two months to begin showing after infection.
Although these 29 deaths have received a fair amount of coverage, listeria kills about 255 Americans annually. The difference however is that most of these deaths are isolated occurrences. Overall, listeria is third on the list of killer food-borne illnesses in the US, with salmonella and toxoplasma surpassing it at over 300 deaths annually.
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