Seventy-two people from 18 states are confirmed to have been infected with the deadly Listeria monocytogenes bacteria linked to Colorado-grown cantaloupes, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Monday.
Last Friday, health authorities in Kansas and Maryland reported that there were two deaths among the then-eight known cases of listeriosis in the state, occurring between Sept. 17 and Sept. 18. Five of those eight cases were confirmed as linked to the national outbreak tied to the Listeria-infected cantaloupe.
The latest case of this rare yet serious food-borne illness arose in early September. On Sept. 12, the CDC first announced that the death toll reached two after a bad cantaloupe was consumed and the outbreak had only spread to three states at the time.
The death toll is currently at 13.
According to CDC, there have been two deaths in Colorado, one in Kansas, one in Maryland, one in Missouri, one in Nebraska, four in New Mexico, one in Oklahoma and two in Texas, as of Monday.
The disease-ridden fruit has sickened a number of residents in 18 states to date.
Health officials say they fear that the illness and death count — the highest in a known food outbreak since tainted peanuts were linked to nine deaths almost three years ago — could go even higher.
Jensen Farms, said to be the culprit of the tainted cantaloupes, has recalled Rocky Ford-brand cantaloupes shipped from July 29 through Sept. 10 to Illinois, Wyoming, Tennessee, Utah, Texas, Colorado, Minnesota, Kansas, New Mexico, North Carolina, Missouri, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Arizona, New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania.
The recalled cantaloupe may be labeled “Colorado Grown,” ‘’Distributed by Frontera Produce,” ‘’Jensenfarms.com” or “Sweet Rocky Fords.” Not all of the recalled cantaloupes are labeled with a sticker, the FDA said in a statement.
A week later, the CDC reported four deaths in New Mexico and 35 illnesses in 10 states, two deaths were reported in Colorado, and one person has died in Oklahoma.
The agency then said that illnesses grew to 55 people in 14 states from eating the contaminated cantaloupes.
“We are deeply saddened to learn that cantaloupes grown on our farm have been linked to the current listeria outbreak. Our hearts go out to those individuals and their families who have been affected by this terrible situation,” said Jensen Farms in a statement last week.
Illnesses have been reported in California, Colorado, Illinois, Indiana, Maryland, Montana, Nebraska, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Texas, Virginia, West Virginia, Wisconsin and Wyoming.
The CDC says illnesses in several other states potentially connected to the outbreak are under investigation.
Colorado has the most illnesses with 14 sickened, followed by New Mexico with 10, Texas with nine and Oklahoma with eight, according to the state's health officials.
Listeria infection can be particularly dangerous for pregnant women, people over the age of 60 and those with compromised immune systems, health officials said.
Symptoms of the infection include fever and muscle aches, diarrhea, headaches, stiff neck and confusion, according to the CDC.
Antibiotics are effective in treating the infection in most cases.