3 Die from Listeria Infections in New Mexico

Three people in New Mexico have died and six others are ill with Listeria infections that preliminary testing has linked to contaminated cantaloupe, state health officials said Monday.

Colorado has also had a significant increase in Listeria cases, including at least one death, health officials said. Patients in both states had eaten cantaloupe.

Health investigators also are looking at Listeria cases in Texas and Nebraska that may be related.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has said this is first Listeria outbreak linked to cantaloupe.

The onset of the New Mexico cases range from Aug. 20 through early September. Molecular fingerprinting tests at the CDC are under way to determine if the New Mexico cases are part of the same outbreak.

All of the ill people in New Mexico have been hospitalized. They range in age from 43 to 96 and include two men and four women.

The fatal cases include a 93-year-old man from Bernalillo County, a 61-year-old woman from Curry County and a 63-year-old man from Bernalillo County. The other cases come from Bernalillo, Chaves, Otero, De Baca and Lea counties.

“We extend our sympathy to the families and friends of those who have died from this infection,” said state Health Secretary Dr. Catherine Torres. “At this time, based on the preliminary findings in Colorado, we are cautioning people who are at high risk for Listeria infection to avoid eating cantaloupe.”

Listeriosis is a serious infection usually caused by eating food contaminated with the bacterium Listeria monocytogenes. The disease primarily affects older adults, pregnant women, newborns and adults with weakened immune systems.

Symptoms can include fever, muscle aches, diarrhea, headache, stiff neck, confusion and convulsions. Listeriosis also can cause miscarriages and stillbirths.

Antibiotics can potentially cure the illness. Even with prompt treatment, some Listeria infections result in death, health officials said.

The CDC is coordinating a multistate investigation with affected state health officials, the Food and Drug Administration and the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety Inspection Service.

State officials said they have also started investigating possible sources of the outbreak. Field inspectors are visiting distributors around the state to take samples for further analysis.

In Colorado, health officials said Monday the multistate outbreak is linked to cantaloupe from the Rocky Ford region in southern Colorado’s Arkansas Valley. Colorado’s chief medical officer, Dr. Chris Urbina, said additional testing is being done to “identify the specific source.”

No recalls have been announced.