A deadly listeria outbreak in six states has been linked to deli meats and cheese, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced on Wednesday.
People at high risk of serious illness from listeria infection — such as pregnant women, the elderly, and people with weakened immune systems — should not eat meat or cheese from any counter. charcuterie without first reheating it “with steam,” the agency suggests.
A total of 16 people have been infected and 13 have been hospitalized, according to reports from six states. One death has been reported in Maryland; another person fell ill during her pregnancy and lost her baby, the CDC said in a statement.
To date, seven Listeria infections have been reported in New York, three in Maryland, two in Illinois, two in Massachusetts, one in California and one in New Jersey. Those infected were between 38 and 92 years old, with an average age of 74. More than half of the sick people were men.
Most of those identified in the outbreak so far are of Eastern European descent or speak Russian, the CDC said, adding that the agency is still investigating why the outbreak appears to be disproportionately affecting this population.
However, some infected those who fell ill could have recovered without medical attention and therefore their cases went unreported. “The actual number of sick people in this outbreak is likely higher than the number reported, and the outbreak may not be limited to states with known illnesses,” the CDC added.
In interviewing the sick people, CDC investigators found that five of seven people in New York City had purchased sliced deli meats or cheese from at least one location of NetCost Market, a chain of stores selling international foods. However, that’s not the only location of the disease, the CDC said, as sick people in other states have reported buying meat or cheese from other delis.
Deli counters and food processing facilities can be a common source of listeria infection, the CDC said, because listeria can easily spread between food and equipment or surfaces and can be difficult to remove. .
If you purchased deli cheese or meat, the agency recommends thorough cleaning of your refrigerator — and any containers or surfaces the meat or cheese may have touched — with hot, soapy water.
“Call your healthcare provider immediately if you have symptoms of severe Listeria disease after eating meat or cheese from a deli,” the CDC said.
Symptoms of listeria usually appear within four weeks of infection, but can take up to 70 days to appear. In some cases, the first signs of infection are diarrhea or other gastrointestinal symptoms. Typical symptoms that follow include headache, stiff neck, fever, muscle aches, confusion, loss of balance and seizures.
Listeria is the third leading cause of death from food poisoning in the United States, according to the CDC, and is especially dangerous for anyone over the age of 65, with a weakened immune system, or pregnant.
Pregnant women are particularly at risk. According to the CDC, they are 10 times more likely to get listeria infection, and the odds are even higher for Hispanic pregnant women, who are 24 times more likely to get listeria.
Pregnant women usually only have flu-like symptoms, but the danger to a developing fetus is high. Infections during pregnancy can lead to miscarriage, premature delivery, or stillbirth. Newborns infected with listeria can develop blood infections, meningitis, and other serious and life-threatening complications.
A listeria infection is treated with antibiotics.
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