Listeria-laced cantaloupes tied to 13 deaths, CDC says

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cantaloupe, listeria, CDC
Flickr/news21-usa

(CBS/AP)The Listeria illness outbreak linked to cantaloupes may be one of the deadliest in recent history, according to new CDC estimates.

Pictures: Listeria: 7 key questions answered

Listeria illness, with symptoms including fever and muscle aches so severe that victims sometimes are incapacitated, has now sickened 72 people across 18 states, according to the CDC.

The CDC now says 13 deaths have been caused by the cantaloupe-carried infection. The death toll - which includes newly confirmed deaths in Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, and two deaths in Texas - surpassed the total from the 2009 deadly salmonella outbreak from peanuts that killed nine.

Officials say the death toll could soon reach 16, as they are investigating additional deaths in New Mexico, Kansas, and Wyoming.

The toll will probably grow in coming weeks because it can take 4 weeks for a Listeria infection to show symptoms, said the CDC's Dr. Robert Tauxe, deputy director of the division of foodborne, waterborne and environmental diseases.

"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."

The 18 states with reported illnesses are California, Colorado, Florida, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Maryland, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Texas, Virginia, West Virginia, Wisconsin, and Wyoming. Colorado saw the most illnesses with 15, while 14 were reported in Texas, and 10 were reported in New Mexico.

"Rocky Ford" cantaloupes from Jensen Farms in Holly, Colo., were recalled earlier this month after state health officials found Listeria in cantaloupes taken from Colo. grocery stores and from a victim's home. Matching strains were also found on equipment at a nearby packing facility.

The cantaloupes in question 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.

Not all of the recalled cantaloupes are labeled with a sticker, according to the FDA, but some may be labeled "Colorado Grown," "Distributed by Frontera Produce," "Jensenfarms.com" or "Sweet Rocky Fords."

The CDC said the median age of sickened individuals is 78 and that one in five who contract the disease might die. Listeria typically sickens elderly, pregnant, and others with weakened immune systems. The CDC said this particular Listeria strain, however, isn't commonly associated with the illness that sickens pregnant women.

Unlike many bacteria, Listeria can grow at room temperature and even refrigerator temperatures. Officials recommend anyone with these recalled cantaloupes discard of them immediately and wash the surface they touched.

Want to learn more about this deadly infection? Click here to learn key facts about Listeria.

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