An outbreak of listeriosis, an illness caused by the food-borne pathogen listeria, has killed at least four and sickened people across four states.
Three of the five deaths attributed to the contamination were in New Mexico, and people in Colorado, Texas and Nebraska also fell ill in the outbreak, traced to consumption of cantaloupe. Listeriosis is generally contracted from deli meats and hot dogs, and can result from consumption of dairy as well.
Listeria is not as much of a risk to healthy individuals as it is to the elderly, small children, people with compromised immune systems and particularly pregnant women, who risk a miscarriage or stillbirth from exposure to the pathogen.
Two of the listeria-related deaths from this outbreak occurred in Colorado, and public health officials believe they may have traced the outbreak to “cantaloupe from the famed Rocky Ford area” as the “likely culprit” behind the severe illnesses and deaths.
Dr. Chris Urbina, director of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, commented on the investigation into the outbreak:
“People at high risk for listeria infection should not eat cantaloupe from the Rocky Ford growing region… The department expects additional test results later this week that may help identify the specific source of the cantaloupe linked to the multistate outbreak.”
Overall, to avoid listeria, recommendations include heating deli meats and hot dogs to steaming hot, and avoiding soft cheeses. Officials in the affected states are cautioning residents to refrigerate cut melon as well as to discard any melon that has remained at room temperature for four hours or more.