One adult is dead in a listeria outbreak that investigators are linking to deli meats and cheeses, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced Wednesday.
Here’s what’s known so far.
What is listeria?
Listeria kills about 260 of the 1,600 Americans infected each year, the CDC says. Senior citizens, pregnant women and children under 5 are the most vulnerable to listeria’s worse effects. Listeria can cause stillbirths and miscarriage. Listeria symptoms include nausea, diarrhea, high fever, severe headaches, stomachaches, stiffness, confusion and poor balance.
In this outbreak, a pregnant woman did have a miscarriage.
How many are sick and where do they live?
The current sick count is 16 people, seven of which are in the state of New York, with 13 people hospitalized. There was the aforementioned adult death, in Maryland. Maryland also has the second most ill people, three. Massachusetts and Illinois have two each. California and New Jersey each have one.
“The true number of sick people in this outbreak is likely higher than the number reported, and the outbreak may not be limited to the states with known illnesses,” the CDC said. “This is because some people recover without medical care and are not tested for listeria. In addition, recent illnesses may not yet be reported as it usually takes three to four weeks to determine if a sick person is part of an outbreak.”
In a rare outbreak breakdown of ethnic background, the CDC said state and local investigators found that “of 13 people with ethnicity information available, 11 are of Eastern European background or speak Russian.”
What foods are involved in this outbreak?
Of the 12 people interviewed about what they ate in the previous month, 11 said they ate meat (or cheese from deli counters, “meat” defined as “cold cuts, lunch meats, hot dogs and pâtés.”
This listeria outbreak is not the one tied to brie and camembert cheeses, nor has it been tied to the recent recall of smoked salmon.
In fact, no recall has been made connected with this outbreak.
“It is difficult for investigators to identify a single food as the source of outbreaks linked to deli meats and cheeses,” the CDC said. “This is because listeria spreads easily between food and the deli environment and can persist for a long time in deli display cases and on equipment. A contaminated food likely introduced the outbreak strain into delis in multiple states.”
Among the seven sickened in New York, the CDC says, “five bought sliced deli meat or cheese from at least one location of NetCost Market, a grocery store chain that sells international foods. Sick people from other states purchased deli meats or cheeses from other delis.
Investigators do not believe that NetCost Market delis are the only source of illnesses because some sick people in the outbreak did not shop at a NetCost Market.”
What you should do now
If you’re in one of the high risk groups mentioned above, don’t eat meat or cheese from a deli counter unless it’s reheated to 165 degrees or steaming hot. This kills listeria that’s on food kept refrigerated.
Clean and sanitize surfaces, including in the refrigerator, and containers that have touched deli meat and cheese.