Death Toll Climbs to 18 in U.S. From Tainted Cantaloupes

The death toll from listeria linked to contaminated cantaloupes has climbed to 18, while 100 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 20 states, the CDC said today in an update on its website. The agency earlier reported that as of Sept. 30, laboratory tests had confirmed 84 people in 19 states had fallen ill from the tainted melons and 15 deaths had been tied to infections triggered by the contaminated fruit.

The listeria outbreak, the first ever linked to cantaloupe, may sicken people through October because those who eat the tainted cantaloupes 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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