CDC reports that the nation’s Listeria monocytogenes outbreak now comprises 72 confirmed outbreak patients in 18 states: California (1), Colorado (15), Florida (1), Illinois (1), Indiana (2), Kansas (5), Maryland (1), Missouri (1), Montana (1), Nebraska (6), New Mexico (10), North Dakota (1), Oklahoma (8), Texas (14), Virginia (1), West Virginia (1), Wisconsin (2), and Wyoming (1).

Thirteen people are confirmed dead, including 2 in Colorado, 1 in Kansas, 1 in Maryland, 1 in Missouri, 1 in Nebraska, 4 in New Mexico, 1 in Oklahoma, and 2 in Texas.

In addition, several state and local health agencies still have cases under investigation, according to CDC. New Mexico is awaiting confirmation of three suspect cases, including one death. I have been advised that Wyoming has two suspect cases under investigation, one of which was fatal. Texas still is continuing its investigation, but is not releasing any information on suspect cases at this time.

Arizona and Hawaii each had one case of listeriosis, but neither state’s illness was at all related to the cantaloupe outbreak. No suspect cases have been identified in Alaska, Minnesota, Nevada, New York, or Oregon.

CDC reports that among persons for whom information is available, illnesses began on or after July 31, 2011. Ages range from 35 to 96 years, with a median age of 78 years old.  Most ill persons are over 60 years old or have health conditions that weaken the immune system. Fifty-eight percent of ill persons are female. Among the 67 ill persons with available information on whether they were hospitalized, 66 (99%) were hospitalized.

Listeria monocytogenes is a recognized killer of the most susceptible populations – the very young, the elderly, pregnant women, and those with weakened immune systems.

Canadians learned this lesson three years ago. By the time Canada’s 2008 Listeria monocytogenes outbreak was identified and contained, 56 people in seven Canadian provinces were infected and 20 of them were dead. Most of the victims were elderly or suffering from a pre-existing illness; many were residents of nursing homes or hospital patients. Seventy-five percent of the confirmed cases and of the fatalities were recorded in the province of Ontario. The outbreak was traced to contaminated ready-to-eat deli meats produced by Canada’s largest meat company, Maple Leaf Farms (once known as Canada Packers). All of the contaminated meat was produced in a single Ontario-based Maple Leaf Farms facility.

At the same time that Canadians were focused on the contaminated deli meat, a second fatal Listeria monocytogenes outbreak was playing out in the province of Québec – Ontario’s next-door neighbor. This outbreak, which sickened at least 30 people, was responsible for one stillbirth and one adult death. The Québec outbreak was traced to contaminated cheese.

The cantaloupe outbreak is following a similar pattern to the Canadian outbreaks and to other deadly Listeria monocytogenes outbreaks listed earlier today by Bill Marler. Illnesses are skewed toward the elderly; most outbreak victims require hospital treatment. And the death rate is high – 18% in the current outbreak.

FDA advises that the contaminated cantaloupes that are responsible for this outbreak were distributed to 25 states: Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Idaho, Illinois, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia, and Wyoming. It is possible that redistribution has spread their reach even further.

FDA warns that because some wholesalers and distributors may have distributed the cantaloupes to food processors (e.g., Carol’s Cuts), additional recalls may ensue. I am continuing to monitor recall notices and to update the cantaloupe retail distribution list whenever any new information is released.