Infected Cantaloupe Claims More Lives [Updated]
[UPDATE | Oct. 4, 5:00 p.m.: New casualties are being reported this week in the deadly listeria outbreak that has been linked to contaminated cantaloupes, leaving 100 sick and 18 dead. This makes it the deadliest food outbreak in over a decade.
The Center for Disease Control and Provention confirmed two new deaths Colorado and one in Kansas on Tuesday. So far, the outbreak has killed people in Texas, Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, Colorado, New Mexico and Maryland.]
The Food and Drug Administration found listeria bacteria on cantaloupes in Denver in September. The produce has been traced to Jensen Farms in Holly, Colo. Despite a nation-wide recall, more cases are being reported in additional states, according to the Associated Press.
Public health officials expect the number of cases to continue to rise. Dr. Robert Tauxe from the Centers for Disease Control says that symptoms of the disease do not manifest immediately. He explains the long incubation period can be problematic. "People who ate a contaminated food two weeks ago or even a week ago could still be falling sick weeks later," said Tauxe.
Symptoms of the disease include fever, stiff muscles and headache. Victims often suffer incapacitation and lose the ability to speak.
Pregnant women, the elderly and those with weakened immune symptoms are most vulnerable to the bacteria, ABC reports.
The CDC and FDA recommend anyone possesing a contaminated cantoloupe to throw it away immediately. Health advocacy groups like the Center for Science in the Public Interest encourage consumers to go a step further. They recommend sanitizing any surface the food might have touched.
Debbie Frederick of Wyoming lost her father, 89-year-old William Thomas Beach, after he ate infected melon. She is still coming to terms with the reasons of her loss. "First you just kind of go into shock. Then it settles in that he would still be alive if this hadn't happened. It's a life, for what?"
Listeria is most often found in deli meats and soft cheeses. Produce-related outbreaks are rare but have increased in recent years. Outbreaks were found in sprouts in 2009 and celery in 2010. One of the greatest risks is that the bacteria can grow at room and refrigerator temperatures. Around 800 cases a year are reported in the United States.