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Press Release

Update: Listeriosis Outbreak Investigation

Update October 4, 2002
Contact: CDC, Media Relations
(404) 639−3286

CDC and several state health departments are investigating an outbreak of listeriosis, primarily affecting persons in the northeastern U.S. Thus far, 40 ill persons with the outbreak strain of Listeria have been detected; all were hospitalized, 7 died, and 3 pregnant women had miscarriages or stillbirths. These patients live in 7 states: Pennsylvania (14 cases), New York (11 cases in New York City, 3 in other locations), New Jersey (4 cases), Delaware (4 cases), Maryland (2 cases), Connecticut (1 case), and Michigan (1 case).

Analysis of data collected to date indicate that the leading suspect food in this outbreak is sliced turkey deli meat. Federal, state, and local health and officials are continuing to investigate to determine the brand(s) and origin of the product involved.

Listeriosis is a very serious foodborne disease that can be life-threatening to certain individuals, including the elderly or those with weakened immune systems. It can also cause miscarriages and stillbirths in pregnant women, so we need to continue to remind persons at high risk to thoroughly heat deli meats before eating them. Persons in these risk groups who reside in the affected states may reduce their risk of infection by not eating sliced turkey deli meats or by thoroughly heating them. This is consistent with standard recommendations for persons at high risk:

  • Avoid foods from deli counters or thoroughly heat deli meat products before eating.

  • Heat hot dogs until steaming before eating.

  • Avoid cross-contaminating other foods, utensils, and food preparation surfaces with fluid from hot dog packages, and wash hands after handling hot dogs.

  • Avoid soft cheeses such as feta, Brie, Camembert, blue-veined, and Mexican-style cheese. (Hard cheeses, processed cheeses, cream cheese, cottage cheese, and yogurt need not be avoided).

The following additional food safety measures, which should be routine for all persons, can also reduce the risk of listeriosis:

  • Thoroughly cook raw food from animal sources, such as beef, pork, or poultry.
  • Wash raw vegetables thoroughly before eating.
  • Keep uncooked meats separate from vegetables and from cooked foods.
  • Avoid raw (unpasteurized) milk or foods made from raw milk.
  • Wash hands, knives, and cutting boards after handling uncooked foods.

In addition to the 40 patients whose illnesses have been confirmed as part of the outbreak, CDC and State Health Departments have learned about other cases of Listeria infection in the same region. DNA subtyping has shown that strains from over 30 patients in these same states are different from the outbreak strain; these illnesses are part of the "background" of sporadic Listeria infections and are likely due to a variety of different foods.

About 2500 cases of listeriosis occur each year in the United States. The initial symptoms are often fever, muscle aches, and sometimes gastrointestinal symptoms such as nausea or diarrhea. The illness may be mild and ill persons sometimes describe their illness as flu-like. If infection spreads to the nervous system, symptoms such as headache, stiff neck, confusion, loss of balance, or convulsions can occur. Most cases of listeriosis and most deaths occur in adults with weakened immune systems, the elderly, pregnant women, and newborns. However, infections can occur occasionally in otherwise healthy persons. Infections during pregnancy can lead to miscarriages, stillbirths, and infection of newborn infants.

Previous outbreaks of listeriosis have been linked to a variety of foods especially processed meats (such as hot dogs, deli meats, and pate) (accent ague over e) and dairy products (such as soft cheeses and milk). Pasteurization eliminates Listeria bacteria; dairy products cause illness only when pasteurization is not done, is inadequate, or when food is contaminated after pasteurization.

If you have questions about Listeria, you can call your local or state health department, your physician, or visit the CDC web site at

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This page last updated October 4, 2002

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