CDC warns of listeria outbreak in the US. Here's what to know

It is tied to contaminated meat and cheese from deli counters.
Ameya Paleja
Bacterial culture plate and chicken meat
Bacterial culture plate and chicken meat

Manjurul/iStock 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has warned of the Listeria outbreak in six states in the U.S. that has infected 16 people and claimed one life so far. There could be more cases that have gone unreported, the health agency's press release said.

The CDC collected samples of sick patients between April 17, 2021, and September 29, 2022, with four infections occurring this year. State and local public health officials interviewed people about the foods they ate prior to the infection. Of the 12 people interviewed, 11 reported eating meat and cheese from deli counters.

Five out of seven people who reported sick in New York bought sliced meat or cheese from at least one location of NetCost market, a grocery store chain. However, investigators do not believe that NetCost outlets are the only source of the infection since sick patients in other states bought meat from other delis. It is likely that a contaminated source introduced the outbreak strain into the delis of different states.

How does Listeria spread?

According to the Food and Drug Administration, listeriosis is caused by the bacterium Listeria monocytogenes, which is found in soil, water, decaying vegetables, and dead animals. The bacterium is transmitted to people through food products that are contaminated during harvest or transport and can also survive food preservation methods such as refrigeration.

Deli counters and food processing facilities are common sources of Listeria infection as the bacterium can easily spread between food and equipment and is rather difficult to remove.

The first signs of infection from Listeria are diarrhea and gastrointestinal symptoms, followed by headache, stiff neck, fever, muscle pain, loss of balance, and convulsions. Symptoms following the infection can start the same day or may be delayed by as many as 70 days, the CDC webpage on listeriosis said.

Who is at risk from Listeria infection?

Listeria is the third leading cause of death from food poisoning in the U.S. and is especially dangerous to those older than 65 years o age, have a compromised immune system, or are pregnant. Newborns infected with Listeria can develop meningitis, blood infections, and other life-threatening conditions.

According to the CDC, those infected in this outbreak were in the range of 38-92 years of age, with the average age being 74. Of the 13 people for whom ethnicity information was available, 11 were found to have Eastern European backgrounds or spoke Russian. The agency is investigating why people of this ethnicity are disproportionately affected.

Of the 14 people for whom information was available, 13 were hospitalized, and one among them died. Another patient who got sick was pregnant, and the infection led to the loss of pregnancy.

CDC has advised those at risk to not eat meat or cheese from a deli counter unless it is steaming hot or is heated to an internal temperature of 165oFahrenheit (73.88oC).

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