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Public Health Dispatch: Outbreak of Listeriosis --- Northeastern United States, 2002

A multistate outbreak of Listeria monocytogenes infections with 46 culture-confirmed cases, seven deaths, and three stillbirths or miscarriages in eight states has been linked to eating sliceable turkey deli meat. Cases have been reported from Pennsylvania (14 cases), New York (11 in New York City and seven in other locations), New Jersey (five), Delaware (four), Maryland (two), Connecticut (one), Massachusetts (one), and Michigan (one). Culture dates ranged from July 18 to September 30, 2002; case-finding is ongoing. Outbreak isolates share a relatively uncommon pulsed-field gel electrophoresis (PFGE) pattern.

One intact food product and 25 environmental samples from a poultry processing plant have yielded L. monocytogenes. The isolate from the food product had a PFGE pattern different from the outbreak strain; however, two environmental isolates from floor drains shared a PFGE pattern indistinguishable from that of outbreak patient isolates, suggesting that the plant might be the source of the outbreak. The investigation to identify a definite source or sources for this outbreak is ongoing.

On the basis of these findings, the plant, operated by Pilgrim's Pride Foods and located in Franconia, Pennsylvania, recalled 27.4 million lbs. of fresh and frozen ready-to-eat turkey and chicken products on October 12, and the company voluntarily suspended operations. The products subject to this recall were produced during May 1--October 11. A list of recalled products is available at http://www.fsis.usda.gov/oa/recalls/prelease/pr090-2002products.htm.

Eating food contaminated with L. monocytogenes can result in listeriosis, an uncommon but potentially fatal disease. The majority of listeriosis cases occur among pregnant women, the elderly, and persons with weakened immune systems. Illness in pregnant women can result in miscarriage, stillbirth, or severe illness or death of a newborn infant. Listeriosis begins often with influenza-like symptoms, and sometimes with diarrhea, which might occur within 1 week after eating contaminated food. Symptoms might progress to include high fever, severe headache, and neck stiffness. Additional information about listeriosis, including high-risk foods and protective measures, is available at http://www.cdc.gov/od/oc/media/pressrel/r021015.htm.

Consumers should avoid eating recalled products and should return them to the place of purchase. The risk for developing Listeria infection after eating a contaminated product is low. If a person has eaten a recalled product and does not have any symptoms, no tests or treatment are needed, even if the person is in a high-risk group. However, persons who become ill with fever or have signs of serious illness suggestive of listeriosis within 1 month after eating sliced deli turkey meat should consult a health-care provider and provide information about this exposure. Physicians and clinical laboratories should report cases of listeriosis immediately to state health departments, and public health laboratories should expedite processing of L. monocytogenes samples.

Reported by: Philadelphia Dept of Public Health. New York City Dept of Health and Mental Hygiene. Pennsylvania Dept of Health. New York State Dept of Health. New Jersey Dept of Health and Senior Svcs. Delaware Health and Social Svcs. Maryland Dept of Health and Mental Hygiene. Connecticut Dept of Public Health. Michigan Dept of Community Health. Massachusetts Dept of Public Health. Food Safety and Inspection Svc, US Dept of Agriculture. Div of Bacterial and Mycotic Diseases, National Center for Infectious Diseases, CDC.

Use of trade names and commercial sources is for identification only and does not imply endorsement by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.


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