At least 13 people have died across the United States in a cantaloupe-linked outbreak of the bacterial disease listeriosis, according to government medical investigators, DPA reported.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Wednesday confirmed at least 13 deaths in eight states and 72 people sickened in 18 states in the outbreak, which was tied to a Colorado farm's now-recalled melons.
The Denver Post reported Wednesday that at least three additional deaths were suspected.
The elderly, pregnant women and people with weakened immune systems are particularly susceptible to Listeria monocytogenes, the bacteria that causes the disease, usually through contaminated food or water.
Listeriosis arises in the gastrointestinal tract and can cause fever, muscle aches and diarrhoea, though the symptoms are rarely severe in healthy adults. The infection is especially dangerous during pregnancy and can cause miscarriage.
In the Colorado outbreak, victims may have been exposed to listeria strains when melons were cut open, with knives transferring bacteria from the rind to the edible, orange flesh inside.
Past deadly listeria outbreaks in the United States have been linked to cheese and processed meats.
The Centers for Disease Control identified the source of the outbreak as Jensen Farms in Granada, Colorado.
The company issued a voluntary recall on September 14. Its website described Jensen Farms as a "third-generation family farm of the Holly, Colorado community."
A September 16 statement, attributed on the website to Eric and Ryan Jensen, said: "We are deeply saddened to learn that cantaloupes grown on our farm have been linked to the current listeria outbreak. Our hearts go out to those individuals and their families who have been affected by this terrible situation."
They said they were cooperating with public health authorities and would do "everything we can to assist" in the probe.
"We hope that the investigation into the entire supply chain from farm to retail identifies the source of the contamination so that appropriate steps can be taken to prevent such an occurrence from ever happening again."
The melons may have been sold in up to 25 states from July to September.
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