A deadly outbreak of listeria has been linked to deli meat and cheese in six states, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported on Wednesday.
According to the Food and Drug Administration, people at high risk of severe illness from listeria infection, such as pregnant women, the elderly, and those with weakened immune systems, should not eat meat or cheese from any deli counter without first reheating it “steaming hot.”
There have been 16 reported cases of infection, and 13 hospitalizations, according to reports from six states. In Maryland, one person died, and another became ill while pregnant and lost their baby, according to the CDC.
Seven listeria infections have been reported in New York, three in Maryland, two in Illinois, two in Massachusetts, one in California, and one in New Jersey. Infected individuals ranged in age from 38 to 92, with an average age of 74. Males made up more than half of those who were sickened.
A majority of those identified so far in the outbreak are Eastern European or speak Russian, according to the CDC, which is investigating why this group appears to be disproportionately affected.
It is possible that some infected people who got sick could have recovered without medical treatment, and consequently, their cases have gone unreported. “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,” noted the CDC.
Five of the seven people who became ill purchased sliced deli meat or cheese from NetCost Market, a chain of stores selling international foods, according to CDC investigators. According to the CDC, other states have reported people who have been sickened from buying meat or cheese from other delis.
As listeria can easily spread between food and equipment or surfaces and can be difficult to remove, deli counters and food processing facilities can be common sources of infection, according to the CDC.
In case you have purchased deli cheese or meat, the FDA recommends cleaning the refrigerator with hot, soapy water after removing any containers or surfaces the products touched.
“Call your healthcare provider right away if you have any symptoms of severe Listeria illness after eating meat or cheese from a deli,” warned the CDC.
The symptoms of listeria usually appear within four weeks of infection, but they can take as long as 70 days. In some cases, diarrhea or other gastrointestinal symptoms are the first signs of infection. Symptoms of this condition include headache, stiff neck, fever, muscle pain, confusion, loss of balance, and convulsions.
According to the CDC, listeria is the third leading cause of food poisoning death in the United States, especially for older adults and pregnant women.
People who are pregnant are especially at risk. CDC data indicates that pregnant Hispanic women have a 10-fold greater risk of contracting listeria, and the odds are even higher for pregnant Cuban women, who are 24 times more likely to contract the disease.
A pregnant woman is typically only symptomatic of flu-like symptoms, but there is a high risk to her developing fetus if she is infected. Infections during pregnancy can result in miscarriages, premature births, or stillbirths. Among the serious complications that newborns with listeria infection can suffer are blood infections, meningitis, and other potentially life-threatening conditions.
Infections caused by listeria are treated with antibiotics.