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Listeria outbreak linked to deli meats turns deadly

A Listeria outbreak linked to sliced deli meat has sickened eight people and led to one death, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Three cases occurred in Pennsylvania, two in New York, two in Michigan, and one in New Jersey.

All eight people have been hospitalized. The death occurred in Michigan.

An investigation found that meats and cheeses sliced at deli counters might be the source of the outbreak. In interviews, all of the ill people reported eating different types and brands of products, including meats and cheeses, sliced at deli counters in many different retail locations.

The CDC has not identified a single common supplier of the deli meats and cheeses. The outbreak strain has been identified in samples taken from deli products and deli counters in multiple locations.

At this time, health officials are not advising that consumers avoid eating products prepared at delis, or that retailers stop selling deli-sliced products. However, people at higher risk of Listeria infection, including pregnant women and their newborns, adults age 65 and older, and people with weakened immune systems, should avoid eating lunch meats, cold cuts, or other deli meats, unless they are heated to an internal temperature of 165°F or until steaming hot just before serving, the CDC advises.

Symptoms of Listeria infection

Listeriosis, the illness caused by a Listeria bacteria, can cause a variety of symptoms, depending on the person and body part that is affected. It can cause fever and diarrhea similar to other foodborne illnesses.

People with invasive listeriosis – meaning the bacteria has spread beyond the gut – can experience symptoms of headache, stiff neck, confusion, loss of balance, and convulsions in addition to fever and muscle aches.

In pregnant women, invasive listeriosis can manifest as fever and other flu-like symptoms, such as fatigue and muscle aches. However, infections during pregnancy can be dangerous and lead to miscarriage, stillbirth, premature delivery, or life-threatening infection of the newborn.

Symptoms of invasive listeriosis usually appear one to four weeks after eating contaminated food, but some people have reported symptoms starting as late as 70 days after exposure or as early as the same day.

Anyone who has symptoms of listeriosis after eating sliced deli products should contact their health care provider. This is especially important for pregnant, anyone age 65 or older, or anyone with a weakened immune system.

How to prevent Listeria infection

Health officials recommend retailers clean and sanitize deli slicers frequently, as well as other areas where deli meats and cheeses are prepared, stored, or served.

The CDC advises consumers take the following steps to protect themselves from Listeria infection:

  • Don't let juice from lunch meat and hot dog packages get on other foods, utensils, and food preparation surfaces.
  • Clean refrigerators, kitchen countertops, utensils, and other surfaces that touch deli-sliced products
  • Wash hands after handling deli meats, lunch meats, deli cheeses, and hot dogs.
  • Store opened packages of meat sliced at a local deli no longer than 3 to 5 days in the refrigerator.