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November 15, 2002
Update: Listeriosis Outbreak Investigation
CDC, state and local health departments, and the United States Department
of Agriculture (USDA) Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) have been
investigating an outbreak of listeriosis primarily affecting persons in the
northeastern United States. Thus far, 52 ill persons infected with the
outbreak strain of Listeria have been identified since mid-July; most
were hospitalized, seven have died, and three pregnant women have had
miscarriages or stillbirths. Epidemiologic data indicate that precooked,
sliceable turkey deli meat is the cause of this outbreak.
Turkey meat products included in these recalls should not be eaten. Information on specific products and brands covered by the recalls is available at: http://www.fsis.usda.gov/OA/recalls/prelease/pr090-2002.htm and http://www.fsis.usda.gov/OA/recalls/prelease/pr098-2002.htm.
Listeriosis is a 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. The affected patients live in 9 states: Pennsylvania (14 cases), New York (12 cases in New York City, 9 in other locations), New Jersey (5 cases), Delaware (4 cases), Maryland (2 cases), Connecticut (1 case), Michigan (1 case), Massachusetts (3 cases), and Illinois (1 case). Thirty-two patients were male and 20 were female. Sixteen patients were age 65 or above, 16 patients were age 1 to 64 years and had an immunocompromising medical condition, eight others were pregnant, and four were neonates; seven patients were age 1 to 64 years and were not pregnant or known to have an immunocompromising condition. No medical information was available for one patient. Of the seven patients who died, six had immunocompromising conditions (three of these patients were also age 65 or older), and one was a neonate. The most recent patient became ill on October 9. In addition to the patients whose illnesses have been confirmed as part of the outbreak, CDC and state and local health departments have learned about other cases of Listeria infection in the same region during the outbreak time period. DNA fingerprinting has shown that strains from 94 patients in these same states are different from the outbreak strain and 23 of these patients have died; these illnesses are part of the "background" of sporadic Listeria infections and are likely due to a variety of different foods. In addition, testing of strains from several additional persons is ongoing; some of these may be identified as the outbreak strain. Because pregnant women, older adults, and people with weakened immune systems are at higher risk for listeriosis, we recommend the following measures for those persons:
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 patι) and dairy products made from unpasteurized milk.
The risk of an individual person developing Listeria infection after consumption of a contaminated product is very small. If you have eaten a contaminated product and do not have any symptoms, we do not recommend that you have any tests or treatment, even if you are in a high risk group. However, if you are in a high risk group, have eaten the contaminated product, and within a month become ill with fever or signs of serious illness, you should contact your health care provider and inform him or her about this exposure.
If you have questions about Listeria, you can call your local or state health department, your physician, or visit the CDC web site at http://www.cdc.gov/ncidod/dbmd/diseaseinfo/listeriosis_g.htm or visit the USDA web site at http://www.usda.gov/news/releases/2001/01/0020.htm.
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This page last updated November 18, 2002
Department of Health and Human Services