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Listeria Warning Issued in North Carolina Following Three Confirmed Cases of Listeriosis

Dec 27, 2007 | Parker Waichman LLP

A Listeria outbreak has prompted a warning from North Carolina public health officials.  Following at least three cases of listeriosis in North Carolina, the North Carolina Division of Public Health is cautioning pregnant women to avoid eating soft cheeses, hot dogs and deli-style meats, and prepared salads.  The Listeria cases were identified in Moore, Durham, and Mecklenburg counties; a probable case was identified in Buncombe County.  All three confirmed listeriosis cases involved Latinas; two were pregnant women whose pregnancies ended in miscarriage.  The third Listeria case also involved a pregnant woman; she delivered early but she and her baby are doing well. The probable listeriosis case involves another pregnant Latina who also lost her baby.  All four women consumed soft cheeses from a variety of sources.  Although the cases occurred close together in time, data from molecular testing conducted at the State Laboratory of Public Health confirmed different strains were involved.  Because a single product does not seem to be the source, a general Listeria warning was issued.  “This is a tragedy, which could have been avoided,” said State Epidemiologist Dr. Jeff Engel. “Listeriosis can be prevented by avoiding unpasteurized milk and other potentially contaminated food, especially among vulnerable people.”

Listeriosis is a serious infection caused by eating food contaminated with the bacterium Listeria monocytogenes.  Listeriosis outbreaks have been associated with consuming unpasteurized or raw milk, contaminated soft cheeses, vegetables, and ready-to-eat meats. The Listeria bacterium is found in soil and water and animals can carry the bacterium without appearing ill, contaminating foods of animal origin such as meats and dairy products.  The bacterium has been found in processed foods that become contaminated after processing, such as soft cheeses and deli counter cold cuts.  The disease typically affects pregnant women, newborns, and people with weakened immune systems and symptoms include fever, muscle aches, and gastrointestinal symptoms such as nausea or diarrhea.  If infection spreads to the nervous system, headache, stiff neck, confusion, loss of balance, or convulsions can occur.

Do not consume unpasteurized milk or foods made from unpasteurized milk.  Thoroughly cook raw food from animal sources and wash raw vegetables before consuming them.  Wash hands, knives, and cutting boards after handling uncooked foods and consume perishable and ready-to-eat foods immediately.  For those at increased risk, do not eat hot dogs, luncheon meats, or deli meats, unless they are reheated until steaming.  Do not allow fluid from hot dog packages to contaminate other foods, utensils, and food preparation surfaces; wash hands after handling hot dogs, luncheon meats, and deli meats.  Do not eat soft cheeses such as feta, Brie, and Camembert, blue-veined cheeses, or Mexican-style cheeses such as queso blanco, queso fresco, and Panela, unless their labels clearly state they are made from pasteurized milk.  Do not eat refrigerated pâtés or meat spreads; however, canned or shelf-stable pâtés and meat spreads may be eaten.  Do not eat refrigerated smoked seafood, unless it is contained in a cooked dish, such as a casserole.  Refrigerated smoked seafood—salmon, trout, whitefish, cod, tuna, or mackerel—is usually labeled "nova-style," "lox," "kippered," "smoked," or "jerky"; canned or shelf-stable smoked seafood may be eaten.


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