In its latest update on the outbreak, the agency said a total of 32 people infected with the outbreak strains of L. monocytogenes have been reported from 11 states. All but one of those who fell ill have been hospitalized, and six deaths have been reported.
“Listeriosis contributed to three of these deaths and it is unclear whether it contributed to an additional two deaths,” the CDC said. “The sixth death was unrelated to listeriosis.”
Furthermore, 10 of the illnesses occurred in a pregnant woman or her newborn infant, with one illness resulting in a fetal loss, the CDC stated. Three other individuals — children between the ages of 5 and 15 who were otherwise healthy — developed meningitis.
CDC first reported the outbreak on December 19, 2014. (See this article from our sister site, FoodQualityNews, for our initial report.)
Meanwhile, north of the border…
The Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) has identified two cases of listeriosis in Canada with the same “genetic fingerprint” as seen in the US outbreak.
The CDC explained that to determine which cases are related to a given outbreak, labs perform DNA “fingerprinting” on Listeriabacteria isolated from ill persons using pulsed-field gel electrophoresis (PFGE) and whole genome sequencing. Bacteria samples that were taken from different individuals yet show the same PFGE patterns are considered to be of the same strain.
Once the PHAC connected the Canadian listeriosis cases to the US outbreak, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency on December 28 recalled all varieties of Happy Apples caramel apples due to possible Listeria contamination.
Happy Apples also recalled its prepackaged caramel apples in the US, as did California Snack Foods and Merb’s Candies. The brand owners issued those recalls after an apple supplier, Bidart Brothers, informed them of a possible connection between their apples and the listeriosis outbreak.
“Investigators are continuing to work to identify if any other brands or types of commercially produced, prepackaged caramel apples may be linked to illnesses,” the CDC said.
In the meantime, the agency is recommending that consumers avoid consuming “any commercially produced, prepackaged caramel apples, including plain caramel apples as well as those containing nuts, sprinkles, chocolate, or other toppings, until more specific guidance can be provided.”