Listeria Cantaloupe Outbreak Deadliest in a Decade

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As many as 16 people have died from the listeria outbreak traced to contaminated cantaloupes.

Health officials say it is the deadliest outbreak in more than a decade.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Tuesday that 72 illnesses, including 13 deaths, are linked to the tainted fruit. State and local officials say they are investigating three additional deaths that may be connected.

The CDC confirmed that recent deaths in Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, and Texas were linked to cantaloupes from Colorado. They say three other deaths may also be connected.

New Mexico officials said Tuesday they are investigating a fifth death, while health authorities in Kansas and Wyoming said they too are investigating additional deaths possibly linked to the tainted fruit.

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The number of deaths is more than the deadly outbreak of salmonella from peanuts almost three years ago. Nine people died during that outbreak.

Dr. Robert Tauxe of the CDC told the Associated Press that the number of illnesses and deaths will probably grow in coming weeks because the symptoms of listeria don't always show up right away. It can take four weeks or more for a person to fall ill after eating food contaminated with listeria.

"That long incubation period is a real problem," Tauxe said. "People who ate a contaminated food two weeks ago or even a week ago could still be falling sick weeks later."

The outbreak has been traced to Jensen Farms in Holly, Colo., which recalled the tainted cantaloupes earlier this month.

The recalled cantaloupe may be labeled "Colorado Grown," `'Distributed by Frontera Produce," `'Jensenfarms.com" or "Sweet Rocky Fords." Not all of the recalled cantaloupes are labeled with a sticker, the Food and Drug Administration said.

The FDA says its investigation into the outbreak is continuing.

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