Ten people have been infected with a strain of listeria, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and epidemiologic evidence shows that deli meat is the likely source of this serious outbreak.
All 10 ill people were hospitalized, and one individual has died. The listeria infections were reported in Florida, Massachusetts and New York. In interviews with nine ill people, all of them reported eating Italian-style meats, such as salami, mortadella and prosciutto, prior to becoming sick. Those interviewed reported that they had bought pre-packaged deli meats and meats sliced at deli counters at various locations.
At this time, the CDC hasn’t narrowed down a specific type of deli meat or a common supplier that may be linked to the listeria outbreak.
Deli meat is among the foods associated with outbreaks of listeriosis, the illness caused by listeria bacteria, in recent years. Other outbreaks, Consumer Reports points out, have been linked to soft cheeses, ice cream and frozen vegetables.
“Unlike some other types of bacteria that cause foodborne illness, it can continue to grow at refrigerator temperatures,” says James E. Rogers, PhD, director of food safety testing and research at Consumer Reports.
Listeria can cause fever and diarrhea similar to other foodborne illnesses, according to the CDC, but this type of listeria infection is rarely diagnosed. Invasive listeriosis, meaning the bacteria has spread beyond the gut, though, can cause a number of symptoms that vary by person.
People who are not pregnant may experience headaches, stiff necks, confusion, loss of balance and convulsions in addition to fever and muscle aches, according to the CDC. Pregnant people infected with listeria may only experience a fever and other flu-like symptoms such as body aches. However, listeria infections during pregnancy can lead to miscarriage, premature delivery, stillbirth or life-threatening infections for the newborn.
Symptoms of invasive listeriosis can start one to four weeks after eating food contaminated with listeria, according to the CDC, although some people have reported symptoms as late as 70 days after exposure or as early as the same day they were exposed.
While a traceback investigation looks to find the source of this listeria outbreak, Consumer Reports notes that it may be a good idea to avoid Italian-style deli meats, especially if you live in one of the states where hospitalizations occurred.