The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently reported that a deadly outbreak of Listeria bacteria has killed one person and infected 16 others.
The lone fatality of Listeria infection came from Maryland, while the 16 infected came from different states – seven in New York, three in Maryland, two each in Massachusetts and Illinois and one each in California and New Jersey. Thirteen of the infected were hospitalized. According to reports, most people affected by the Listeria outbreak are either of Eastern European descent or speak the Russian language.
The CDC collected samples of individuals affected by the pathogen from April 17, 2021 until Sept. 29, 2022. Most of the victims are 38 to 92 years old with a median age of 74. Nearly two-thirds of those afflicted by Listeria infection – 62 percent – are male.
Listeriosis, the disease affecting the 16 people, is caused by consuming products infected with the bacterium L. monocytogenes. This foodborne pathogen is commonly found in improperly processed deli meats and unpasteurized milk products. The CDC said an estimated 1,600 people contract listeriosis annually, with about 260 dying of it.
Symptoms usually occur within one to four weeks after eating the contaminated products, but can take as long as 70 days after exposure to show. They include fever, headache and flu-like symptoms, such as muscle aches and fatigue, stiff neck, confusion and seizures.
The agency immediately suggested that people at high risk of severe illness from listeriosis – such as pregnant women, the elderly and those with weakened immune systems – avoid eating meat or cheese from any deli counter without first reheating it “steaming hot,” as a precautionary measure.
Investigators from the CDC also found that five of the seven New Yorkers with listeriosis bought the contaminated deli meat or cheese from at least one location of international food purveyor NetCost Market. The agency said that officials are still working to identify any specific products that may also be contaminated.
Moreover, the public health agency highlighted that Listeria infection is the third leading cause of death from food poisoning in the United States. Anyone older than 65 with a weakened immune system is at high risk from listeriosis, but pregnant people are especially at risk. Expectant mothers are 10 times more likely to catch L. monocytogenes, with Hispanic mothers 24 times likely to get it. (Related: Pregnant woman contracts Listeria infection from contaminated cantaloupe, gives birth to premature baby.)
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) explained that most of the time, pregnant women who are infected with listeriosis do not feel sick. However, they can pass the infection to their unborn babies without even knowing it.
“During the first trimester of pregnancy, listeriosis may cause miscarriage. As the pregnancy progresses to the third trimester, the mother is more at risk. Listeriosis can also lead to premature labor, the delivery of a low-birth-weight infant or infant death,” the FDA website stated.
“Fetuses who have a late infection may develop a wide range of health problems, including intellectual disability, paralysis, seizures, blindness, or impairments of the brain, heart, or kidney. In newborns, L. monocytogenes can cause blood infections and meningitis.”
Fortunately, Listeria infection can be treated with antibiotics.
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