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Listeriosis outbreak linked to sliced deli turkey. (Product Origin Not Yet Identified).

Sliced turkey deli meat may be harboring the strain of Listeria responsible for an outbreak of listeriosis in the northeastern United States that began this summer and is continuing into the fall, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported.

As a precaution, the CDC has issued a health alert warning at-risk individuals--including elderly people, pregnant women, newborns, and persons with compromised immune systems--either to avoid food from deli counters or to thoroughly heat deli meats before eating them.

To date, 44 people in seven states have become ill from the same strain of the food-borne bacteria Listeria monocytogenes, including 14 patients in Pennsylvania, 14 in New York, 4 in New Jersey, 4 in Delaware, 2 in Maryland, and 1 each in Connecticut and Michigan. The outbreak has led to seven deaths and three miscarriages or stillbirths in pregnant woman, the CDC reported.

Although deli turkey is the leading suspect food based on collected data analyses, federal, state, and local health officials have yet to identify the brand or brands of the product involved or its origin.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture Food Safety and Inspection Service's continuing investigation into the cause of a Northeast outbreak of L. monocytogenes resulted in detection of the bacteria in a facility owned by Pilgrim's Pride Corp., doing business as Wampler Foods Inc. in Franconia, Pa. The strain found in a sample taken at the facility that tested positive for L. monocytogenes does not match the strain common to outbreak victims.

Nonetheless, the company is voluntarily recalling approximately 27.4 million pounds of fresh and frozen ready-to-eat turkey and chicken products that may be contaminated with L. monocytogenes, the USDA announced in early October.

Initial symptoms of the food-borne bacterial infection mimic those of the flu in healthy persons and can include fever, muscle aches, and gastrointestinal disturbances--such as nausea and diarrhea.

Immunocompromised adults and newborns are particularly susceptible to more serious consequences, induding sepsis and meningoencephalitis. Signs that the infection has spread to the nervous system in-dude such symptoms as headache, stiff neck, confusion, loss of balance, or convulsions. In pregnancy, listeria infections can lead to miscarriages, stillbirths, and neonatal transmission.

There is no routine screening test for susceptibility to listeriosis during pregnancy. Symptoms such as fever or stiff neck should prompt a blood or spinal fluid test to diagnose listeriosis.

When infection occurs during pregnancy, antibiotics given promptly to the pregnant woman can often prevent infection of the fetus or newborn.

Infants with listeriosis receive the same antibiotics as adults, although a combination of antibiotics is often used until physicians are certain of the diagnosis. Even with prompt treatment, some infections result in death. This is particularly likely in the elderly and in persons with other serious medical problems, the CDC said.

Healthy adults and children occasionally get infected with Listeria, but they rarely become seriously ill.

In addition to the 43 cases in this outbreak, the CDC and state health departments learned of other cases of Listeria infection in the same region. DNA subtyping showed that these strains were different from the outbreak strain, and part of the "background" of sporadic infections.

At-risk individuals should also be made aware of recommendations regarding unsafe foods such as unpasteurized dairy products, undercooked seafood, and processed meat products, as well as safe food preparation practices.
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Author:Mahoney, Diana
Publication:Family Practice News
Date:Nov 1, 2002
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