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Death Toll From Tainted Cantaloupes Rises to 15, CDC Says

The death toll from listeria linked to contaminated cantaloupes has climbed to 15, while 84 people have been sickened in the deadliest U.S. foodborne illness outbreak in more than a decade, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said.

The illnesses now span 19 states, the CDC said today in an update on its website. The agency earlier reported that as of Sept. 26, laboratory tests had confirmed that 72 people in 18 states had fallen ill from the tainted melons, and 13 died.

The listeria outbreak, the first ever tied to cantaloupe, may sicken people through October because those who eat the contaminated fruit can take more than two months to become sick, CDC Director Thomas Frieden said Sept. 28 on a conference call. Jensen Farms of Granada, Colorado, recalled the cantaloupes on Sept. 14.

“Cantaloupes that are known to not have come from Jensen Farms are safe to eat,” the CDC said in today’s update. “If consumers are uncertain about the source of a cantaloupe for purchase, they should ask the grocery store.”

Food and Drug Administration officials said Sept. 28 that they working with Colorado officials to learn how the contamination occurred.

Listeria, a bacterium often found in soil and water, sickens about 1,600 people and kills about 260 in the U.S. each year, according to the CDC website. Animals can carry the germ without appearing ill. Pregnant women, the elderly and those with weakened immune systems are at greatest risk from listeria infections. Symptoms include fever and diarrhea.

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