Listeriosis is a very dangerous infection that is caused by human consumption of food contaminated with bacteria called Listeria monocytogenes. The bacteria is common in both wild and domesticated animals, soil and water. It can cause illness and stillbirth, or miscarriage, in pets and domestic animals.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention list 84 illnesses and 15 deaths linked to the tainted fruit. State and local officials are investigating three additional deaths that may be connected.
The melons are believed to have been grown in Colorado this summer, but because it takes up to two months for symptoms to appear, cases are still being discovered.
Thomas Frieden, Director of the CDC suggests anyone having cantaloupes to throw them away, as washing them will not kill the listeriosis.
Although between 1.5 and 4.5 million cantaloupes were recalled by the producer, Jenson Farms, on Sept. 14, not all the melons produced by the farm were labeled. The farm has contacted all of their customers. The CDC believes the problem could be much larger, as retailers may have shipped their produce to secondary wholesalers in other states.
Vegetables, such as the cantaloupes, come in contact with the bacteria through manure, or contaminated soil. The illness is especially dangerous to pregnant women, developing fetuses and newborns or adults whose immune system may be weak. The bacteria causes gastrointestinal illnesses but can also cause blood infections or meningitis.
The U.S. Library of Medicine explains if a pregnant woman gets listeriosis early in her pregnancy, it will generally lead to miscarriage, however, the bacteria can also cross the placenta ad infect the baby.
Infections in late pregnancy lead to stillbirth or death within a few hours of birth in about half of those infected.
Treatment usually involves an antibiotic regime but the prognosis for infants and infected fetuses is very poor with high death rates.
Children and adults have a lower death rate from the bacteria.
The CDC suggests calling your health care provider if symptoms of listeriosis develop, including, loss of appetite, lethargy, jaundice, vomiting, respiratory distress or skin rash.
The death toll released by the CDC includes newly confirmed deaths in Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska and Texas - surpassed the number of deaths linked to an outbreak of salmonella in peanuts almost three years ago. Nine people died in that outbreak.
Here's the breakdown on people infected with any of the four strains of Listeria monocytogenes reported to the CDC: Alabama (1), Arkansas (1) California (1), Colorado (17), Illinois (1), Indiana (2), Kansas (5), Maryland (1), Missouri (3), Montana (1), Nebraska (6), New Mexico (13), North Dakota (1), Oklahoma (11), Texas (14), Virginia (1), West Virginia (1), Wisconsin (2), and Wyoming (2).