ANNAPOLIS – An outbreak of listeria infection that hit five states including Maryland, is scaring consumers, but the state’s rate of the food poisoning is typical of past years, Maryland’s health department says.
“The overall numbers aren’t really higher. We had 11 cases at this same time last year, and at this point we’ve had 13 cases reported,” said Leslie Edwards, acting chief of the Division of Outbreak Investigation for the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.
In 2000, 22 listeria infection cases were reported in Maryland, and 16 cases were reported last year.
Of this year’s 13 cases, two have been linked to an outbreak in New York, Pennsylvania, Connecticut and Michigan involving the same strain of listeria.
The five states combined reported 26 cases from the same listeria strain, but the source has not yet been determined said Edwards.
The Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene is investigating Maryland’s two cases.
Listeria is bacteria that can be found in the soil, water and manure used as fertilizer. Humans can become infected by eating unpasturized foods, including soft cheeses, lunch meats, hot dogs and unpasturized milk.
“We’re not sure if (the recent outbreak) is food because listeria can be passed on in many other ways,” said Karen Black, spokeswoman for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Listeria can cause vomiting, nausea, fever, stiff neck, meningitis, and in severe cases death. Pregnant women are 20 times more likely to get sick than healthy adults and children, the CDC said. The infection can cause stillbirth or premature delivery. Someone with listeria infection rarely becomes seriously ill, but it can be fatal to the elderly and those with weakened immune systems, according to the CDC.
Four people have died as a result of the outbreak, one in Pennsylvania, two in New York and one in Michigan.
On average, 2,500 cases of listeria are reported each year. An estimated 500 of those with listeria die from the illness, said K.D. Hoskins, CDC spokeswoman.
Other food-borne illnesses affect Maryland residents every year. This year, Maryland has seen 658 cases of salmonella and 35 cases of E. coli, according to a CDC provisional report. Salmonella is a bacteria that causes diarrhea, fever, and abdominal cramps 12 to 72 hours after infection. Humans usually contract the illness by eating foods contaminated with animal feces. The illness is rarely fatal and lasts between five to seven days. E.coli is bacteria that causes diarrhea, and occasionally leads to kidney failure. Most illnesses have resulted from undercooked ground beef contaminated at the slaughterhouse. Food-borne diseases cause approximately 76 million illnesses, 325,000 hospitalizations, and 5,000 deaths each year in the United States. Such illnesses nationally have declined 23 percent drop since 1996 according to the CDC.