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Death toll from tainted cantaloupes rises to 23

By Joe Sutton, CNN
updated 7:17 AM EDT, Thu October 13, 2011
The listeria outbreak is the deadliest food-borne illness outbreak in the United States since 1998.
The listeria outbreak is the deadliest food-borne illness outbreak in the United States since 1998.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • At least 116 cases have been reported in 25 states
  • The tainted cantaloupes were recalled last month
  • Two elderly woman from Louisiana are the latest victims

(CNN) -- The number of deaths linked to cantaloupes contaminated with the Listeria monocytogenes bacteria has risen to 23, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirmed Wednesday.

At least 116 cases of listeria have been reported in 25 states, the agency said. The two latest fatalities came in Louisiana.

The Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals confirmed this week that an 87-year-old Baton Rouge woman died earlier this month. Last week the department also indentified a Shreveport-area woman, 81, who died from the same strain.

Health officials have said the number of cases could continue to grow, citing reporting lags and the fact the disease can develop slowly in some people, taking up to two months.

Listeria victim's wife: It's 'pure hell'

The listeria outbreak is the deadliest food-borne illness outbreak in the United States since 1998.

Five people each have died in New Mexico and Colorado from consuming the tainted fruit, along with two people each in Kansas, Texas and now Louisiana. One has died in Indiana, Maryland, Missouri, Nebraska, New York, Oklahoma and Wyoming, the CDC said. In addition, one woman who was pregnant at the time of the illness had a miscarriage.

Cases have also been reported in Alabama, Arkansas, California, Idaho, Illinois, Montana, North Dakota, Oregon, South Dakota, Texas, Virginia, West Virginia and Wisconsin.

Groups at high risk for listeria include older adults, people with weakened immune systems and pregnant women, officials have said.

The grower, Jensen Farms of Granada, Colorado, issued a voluntary recall of its Rocky Ford brand cantaloupes on September 14. The tainted cantaloupes should be off store shelves, the CDC said.

Cantaloupes from Jensen Farms should be disposed of immediately, even if some of them have been eaten, the CDC said. If consumers are uncertain about the source of a cantaloupe, they are urged to ask their supermarket. If the source remains unknown, the fruit should be thrown out, officials have said.

Refrigerating a cantaloupe will not kill the bacteria, which can grow at low temperatures, authorities have said, and consumers should not try to wash off the bacteria.

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