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State Health Department warns of Listeria outbreak

Colorado Department of Public Health and the Environment


Sept. 2, 2011

DENVER – Officials at the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment today announced the state health department has identified a sharp increase in the number of Listeria monocytogenes infections reported to public health agencies.

Nine cases were reported during August, with seven of the nine cases reported since August 29. In comparison, during 2000-2010, an average of two cases were reported during August. On average, Colorado has only about 10 cases of listeriosis a year.

Individuals in all nine cases were hospitalized and two died. The affected individuals reside in the following counties: Adams, Arapahoe (2), Boulder, Denver, Douglas, El Paso, Jefferson and Weld. They range in age from the 30s to the 90s. The majority are older female adults.

This investigation is in its early stages, and the source of the outbreak is not known. Alicia Cronquist, an epidemiologist at the state health department said, “Until we have more information about the sources of this outbreak, it is important for people to follow the standard CDC guidance about Listeria.”

Cronquist said, “People who are at high risk for Listeria infection can decrease their risk by avoiding hot dogs and deli meats unless reheated to an internal temperature of 165 F; refrigerated pâté or meat spreads; refrigerated smoked seafood; and soft cheeses such as queso fresco and brie unless they are made with pasteurized milk.”

People who are at high risk for Listeria include people with weakened immune systems from transplants or certain chronic diseases, immunosuppressive therapies or medications; pregnant women; and people age 60 and older.

Consumption of food contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes can cause listeriosis, an uncommon but potentially fatal infection. Healthy people rarely contract listeriosis. Symptoms of listeriosis can include fever and muscle aches, and can also include diarrhea, headache, stiff neck, confusion and convulsions. Listeriosis also can cause miscarriages and stillbirths.

Antibiotics given promptly can cure the illness and prevent infection of a fetus. Even with prompt treatment, some Listeria infections result in death. This is particularly likely in older adults and in people with other serious medical problems.

The full text of the press release is available here (pdf).

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