Meats and cheeses sold at deli counters in six states are the likely source of an outbreak of Listeria monocytogenes, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced.
Health authorities are working to pinpoint specific products or delis linked to the outbreak. The contaminated meats may include cold cuts, lunch meats, hot dogs or pâtés.
Investigators said a tainted meat or cheese probably introduced the outbreak strain into delis in multiple states. Listeria can easily spread among countertops, deli slicers, surfaces and hands.
“Listeria is a hearty germ that can be difficult to fully remove once it is in the deli,” the CDC said in the outbreak announcement. “It can survive and grow at cold temperatures in the refrigerator.”
Infections by the numbers
From April 17 to Sept. 29, 16 infections were recorded in people 38 to 92 years old. Of the 14 infected people with information available, 13 were hospitalized, one died and one person lost their pregnancy.
Illnesses have been recorded in California, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey and New York.
The CDC said the total of infected people and states involved in this outbreak is probably higher than the reported amount because some people recover without medical care and are not tested for listeria.
Advice to consumers
People who are 65 or older, have a weakened immune system or are pregnant have a greater risk of severe illness from listeria.
If you are at high risk for infection, the CDC advises you to:
Symptoms of a listeria infection
Listeriosis, the infection caused by eating food contaminated with the listeria bacteria, may cause serious and sometimes fatal illness in people 65 and older and those with weakened immune systems. Pregnant women and newborns are also at risk of serious infection.
The CDC says a listeria infection can cause a range of symptoms, including:
- Stiff neck
- Loss of balance
- Muscle aches
Pregnant women usually experience only fever, fatigue and muscle aches. However, listeria can lead to premature birth or pregnancy loss and can cause serious illness or death in newborns. Anyone who experiences symptoms of severe listeria illness should call their health care provider.
About 1,600 people in the U.S. get listeriosis each year, resulting in an average of 260 deaths, the CDC estimates. Americans 65 and older are four times as likely as others to get a listeria infection.