The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention now claims 72 illnesses, including 13 deaths, are linked to cantaloupes. Health officials say they are investigating three additional deaths that may be connected to listeria.
The number of infected persons identified in each state is as follows: California (1), Colorado (15), Florida (1), Illinois (1), Indiana (2), Kansas (5), Maryland (1), Missouri (1), Montana (1), Nebraska (6), New Mexico (10), North Dakota (1), Oklahoma (8), Texas (14), Virginia (1), West Virginia (1), Wisconsin (2), and Wyoming (1).
Thirteen deaths have been reported: 2 in Colorado, 1 in Kansas, 1 in Maryland, 1 in Missouri, 1 in Nebraska, 4 in New Mexico, 1 in Oklahoma, and 2 in Texas.
New Mexico officials are investigating a fifth death, while additional deaths are being investigated in Kansas and Wyoming.
Dr. Robert Tauxe of the CDC warns that illnesses and deaths will increase going forward because listeria symptoms can be latent. It can take one month or more for an illness to manifest after eating food contaminated with listeria.
“That long incubation period is a real problem,” Tauxe said. “People who ate a contaminated food two weeks ago or even a week ago could still be falling sick weeks later.”
Symptoms of listeria include fever and muscle aches, often with other gastrointestinal symptoms. Victims often become incapacitated and unable to speak.
The Rocky Ford-brand cantaloupes from Jensen Farms were shipped from July 29 through Sept. 10 to Arkansas, Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Illinois, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia, and Wyoming.
The recalled cantaloupe may be labeled “Colorado Grown,” ”Distributed by Frontera Produce,” ”Jensenfarms.com” or “Sweet Rocky Fords.” Not all of the recalled cantaloupes are labeled with a sticker, the FDA said.
The CDC claims illnesses began on or after July 31, 2011. Ages range from 35 to 96 years, with a median age of 78 years old. Most ill persons are over 60 years old or have health conditions that weaken the immune system. Fifty-eight percent of ill persons are female. Among the 67 ill persons with available information on whether they were hospitalized, 66 (99%) were hospitalized.
About 800 cases of Listeria infection are diagnosed each year in the United States, along with 3 or 4 outbreaks of Listeria-associated foodborne illness, notes the CDC, which adds that the foods that typically cause these outbreaks have been deli meats, hot dogs, and Mexican-style soft cheeses made with unpasteurized milk. Produce is not often identified as a source, but sprouts caused an outbreak in 2009, and celery caused an outbreak in 2010.