Listeria death toll reaches 23

A month after infected Cantaloupe melons from Colorado were recalled, the deadly listeria outbreak continues to claim lives-now reaching 23-a record for U.S. food-borne listeriosis outbreaks.

With two more deaths reported in Louisiana on Wednesday, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) have reported a total of 23 deaths caused by the disease: 5 in Colorado, 1 in Indiana, 2 in Kansas, 2 in Louisiana, 1 in Maryland, 1 in Missouri, 1 in Nebraska, 5 in New Mexico, 1 in New York, 1 in Oklahoma, 2 in Texas, and 1 in Wyoming.

In addition one pregnant woman in Iowa was reported to have suffered a miscarriage after contracting a listeria infection from infected cantaloupe melon, according to state health officials. Pregnant women and the elderly are more vulnerable to getting ill from listeria due to their weaker immune systems.

As the death toll now exceeds the number who died from a multi-state listeria outbreak linked to hot dogs and deli turkey in 1998, the outbreak has been classed as the deadliest of its kind. A further116 people have been reported to have contracted a listeria infection across 25 states, The CDC reported late on Wednesday night.

The outbreak has been traced back to Rocky Ford cantaloupes from Colorado. A total of 300,000 cases of cantaloupes were shipped from the Jensen Farms. Even though the melons were recalled listeria has an incubation period of a month or more, so people who ate contaminated fruit last week may not see illnesses until next month, according to Thomas Frieden, director of the Centers of Disease Control (CDC).

Listeria is generally more deadly than illnesses like salmonella or e.coli, the CDC reported. Twenty-one people died from listeria poisoning in 1998 traced to contaminated hot dogs and possibly deli meats. Another large listeria outbreak in 1985 killed 52 people and was linked to Mexican-style soft cheese.

The CDC has urged anyone who has a contaminated melon to throw it out. Even though the melons were recalled on Sept.14, officials feel that not all of them were labeled and some could still be lurking in supermarket refrigerators.

The FDA has warned people to check for the following labels: Colorado Grown, Distributed by Frontera Produce, or Sweet Rocky Fords.

People should not try to wash bacteria from the tainted melons as they could risk spreading the bacteria inside of the fruit, the CDC warns. Anyone who believes they have made contact with the contaminated fruit has been urged to use bleach to wipe down the inside of the door handle on the refrigerator, as well as kitchen surfaces and cutting boards.

The CDC also issued everyday tips on how to prevent a listeria or e.coli contamination:

Thoroughly cook raw food from animal sources such as beef, pork or poultry to a safe internal temperature.

Rinse raw vegetables thoroughly under running water before eating.

Keep uncooked meats and poultry separate from vegetables and from cooked foods and ready-to-eat foods.

Do not drink raw and unpasteurized milk and do not eat foods that have unpasteurized milk in them.

Eat perishable and ready-to-eat foods as soon as possible.

Clean up spills in your refrigerator right away.

The main symptoms are: Fever, muscle aches, nausea, diarrhea. If the infection spreads to the nervous system people can experience headaches, confusion, and changes in alertness, stiff neck, convulsions and a loss of balance.

The FDA and CDC announced on Wednesday that they expect the number of illnesses to carry on through October.